The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) announced Wednesday its latest effort to aggressively accelerate construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir, submitting permit applications that will shave 18 months off the project's finish time.
The permit applications will allow land clearing to begin and implement Gov. Ron DeSantis' "Achieving More Now For Florida's Environment" Executive Order.
"This is great. We are moving forward on this reservoir project at full speed ... because it is a crucial component of the overall (restoration) plan," said SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. "The permit applications are the latest major milestone that will get this project built and its benefits realized in the foreseeable future."
Late Tuesday, SFWMD applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection for permits to allow the District to clear a 700-foot-wide strip of land, encompassing about 690 acres on the site of the proposed reservoir project.
The work will prepare the land to build a canal and perimeter levee for the project's stormwater treatment area. The canal will feed water diverted from Lake Okeechobee through existing canals into the 240,000 acre-foot reservoir and stormwater treatment area. The proposed A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area will treat and cleanse water before it is sent to the Southern Everglades.
The 690 acres needed is currently leased by the Florida Crystals Corp. for agricultural use. In letters written to SFWMD, Florida Crystals committed to ensuring the District has access to leased land to expedite the work. SFWMD has requested Florida Crystals begin preparing to transition land the District.
The District expects to receive the permits and complete the preparation work for the levee and canal by the end of the year, allowing crews to start excavating the intake canal next year. Once the levee, canal and STA are complete, SFWMD can use the STA to cleanse southbound water even before the reservoir itself is completed.
"The residents of South Florida need and deserve the environmental benefits of this project. ..." Bartlett added. "Today's announcement is good news for Floridians."
Here was the earliest reaction of governmental officials, Florida's environmental leaders and agricultural interests to news of the reservoir acceleration plans:
SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss: "Accelerating construction on the EAA Reservoir Project by a full year and a half is a giant leap forward. This Governing Board is fully committed to implementing Governor DeSantis' Executive Order and advancing this critical Everglades restoration project in a timely manner. This acceleration demonstrates that commitment."
Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation: "Today's announcement is a step forward toward completing the long-overdue Everglades Reservoir. The new leadership of the South Florida Water Management District should be congratulated for making this project a priority. This is a necessary initial component of the larger project that is critical to our waterways and must be implemented expeditiously. Only by the reservoir becoming fully operational can we address our continuing water challenges, and Florida cannot afford to wait."
Julie Wraithmell, executive director at Audubon Florida: "Kudos to the South Florida Water Management District for pushing to begin work for canals to serve the future Everglades reservoir. This urgently needed project has a lot of moving parts and will take time to complete as South Florida can ill-afford any delays. The Governor and Legislature provided real leadership this year with historic appropriations to Everglades Restoration, and Audubon is thrilled to see the District translating this urgency into action."
SFWMD Governing Board Member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: "The environmental benefits of the EAA Reservoir Project are now within sight. Reducing damaging discharges to our coastal communities and sending more water south are exactly what Floridians have been asking for and deserve. Gov. DeSantis' leadership continues accelerating this project, and today we are one step closer to completing this important project."
Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals: "Florida Crystals has been a partner in Everglades restoration for more than two decades. We are proud of the success that has been achieved in the southern Everglades thanks to the long-standing collaboration between the State of Florida, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and our Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) farming community. We are committed to working closely with the SFWMD to help facilitate construction of the EAA reservoir like we have done with other restoration projects."
To read more about the EAA Reservoir project or for modeling data and information on the previously held Governing Board meetings, including agendas and presentations, visit www.sfwmd.gov/eaareservoir.