Last week, you may have seen news that US Army Corps of Engineers announced an historic $1.1 billion investment in Everglades restoration. The funds were allocated from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that the President signed into law on November 15th, 2021. Before we take a look at where this money is going, it’s worth reinforcing the complexity and nuance surrounding Everglades restoration–this is not a simple topic. Thankfully, we’ve got groups like Captains for Clean Water, navigating these processes and translating all the minutia.
According to USACE’s accounting breakdown, five “South Florida Ecosystem Restoration” projects will receive funding.
- Initiate and fully fund construction of the Broward County Water Preserve Area C-11 Impoundment feature.
- Initiate and fully fund construction of the Indian River Lagoon- C23/24 North Reservoir feature.
- Initiate and fully fund construction of Central Everglades Planning Project South – S-356 Pump Station feature.
- Biscayne Bay & Southern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (Complete PIR).
- CERP Design – Western Everglades Restoration Project (Complete PIR).
Thousands of words would be needed to adequately explain these projects. So, en leu of that, just understand that the recently-funded “South Everglades Ecosystem Restoration” projects achieve varying levels of benefit and restoration for the Everglades and South Florida’s ecosystems. For example, some of the projects will capture and store rainfall runoff from suburban areas, and others have more to do with planning and review.
However, there’s a big caveat here, and one that has major implications for efficiently restoring the Everglades. While this investment in Everglades restoration is historic and federal involvement is always welcomed, it did nothing to advance the priority project that would have the most benefit for restoring the Everglades ecosystem and defending the harmful discharges to the east and west coasts of Florida. None of these federal dollars were allocated to continue construction on the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.
You see, the EAA Reservoir will be composed of a 6,500 acre natural wetland project and 10,500 acre reservoir to capture discharge water from Lake Okeechobee. All of the projects under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan are important and will be needed, but the EAA is the most urgently needed component because it would provide immediate relief from the toxic discharges that have fueled harmful algal blooms, red tides, and fish kills during past summers. Daniel Andrews, Captains for Clean Water’s Executive Director, noted that “on one side this is awesome because it’s a ton of money for Everglades restoration, but the downside is that money is not being spent on projects that are going to have any significant benefit on our fisheries or estuaries.”
Here’s the statement Captains for Clean Water released on their social media:
“This is a historic, monumental amount of money and we are extremely grateful to the bipartisan members of Florida’s delegation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and to our supporters for making this necessary investment in Everglades Restoration.
However, while this investment is extremely important, it’s not going to do anything to stop the discharges. The project that will provide actual relief from the damaging discharges—the EAA Reservoir—has been further delayed and is still not fully funded.
The EAA Reservoir project is known as the “Heart of Everglades Restoration” and it will provide the greatest reduction in discharges to the estuaries, yet none of this federal funding was allocated to the EAA Reservoir.
As restoration is a marathon, not a sprint, we do look forward to additional significant funding in this year’s annual budget process to commit to this critical storage project south of Lake Okeechobee, but we still question why it received nothing from this record amount of money.”
Everglades restoration will continue, and hopefully the priority projects will continue to receive funding and progress, but this investment does not appear to be the best bang for the Corp’s buck. There are still opportunities for the EAA project to receive major federal contributions this year through the Federal Budget process. However, it may be more difficult to allocate additional federal funds to the EAA after $1.1 billion was earmarked for other Everglades restoration projects. Time will tell.