Friday marked the 25th anniversary of a groundbreaking environmental law known as the Everglades Forever Act, one of the most significant in the history of the nation, let alone the state of Florida. The act has governed the restoration of water quality in Florida's Everglades since Lawton Chiles was governor in 1994.
"We are still working hard every day to restore and protect the Everglades and we still have a lot of work to do," said South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss. "But as we observe the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Everglades Forever Act, it offers an opportunity to look back on the tremendous progress we have made in saving this unique ecosystem and to focus our efforts for the future."
The Everglades Forever Act directed state agencies like SFWMD to implement source controls such as Best Management Practices (BMPs), treatment technologies such as Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) and regulatory programs to reduce nutrient levels and ensure that water bound for the Everglades Protection Area, including the three water conservation areas and Everglades National Park, met stringent water quality standards.
Since the passage of the Everglades Forever Act and other plans that aim to restore the Everglades, Florida has invested more than $2.8 billion in Everglades water quality. To fulfill the vision of the Everglades Forever Act, 57,000 acres of STAs were built and BMPs developed and enforced on agricultural operations in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) south of Lake Okeechobee. Following later state plans that aimed to increase the restoration of Everglades water quality, SFWMD is adding another 6,500 acres of STAs and is building shallow storage basins that can store up to 116,000 acre-feet of water to improve the performance of STAs.
The combined actions taken by SFWMD and other state and federal partners following the passage of the Everglades Forever Act have resulted in about 90 percent of the water in the Everglades Protection Area now achieving the stringent water quality standard of 10 parts per billion or less of phosphorus that was established through the Everglades Forever Act.
"The Everglades Forever Act was a major first step forward restoring the Everglades and we have seen that step pay off through improved water quality," Goss said. "Now through the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis and following the input of the public we serve, we must plan and take the next steps to fully restore the quality, quantity, distribution and timing of Everglades water and protect our environment for future generations."