Restoration of the Florida Everglades

Restoration of the Florida Everglades

The Florida Everglades are not only an environmental wonder, but provide essential “plumbing” to move water south in the state, recharging the Biscayne Aquifer and ultimately supplying necessary freshwater to Florida Bay. However, the size, flow, and structure of the Everglades has been substantially altered for over 100 years, primarily to support development and agriculture.  Restoring this historic flow is essential to maintain ecological balance in South Florida estuaries and Florida Bay, which are vital to the health of our fisheries, habitat and water quality.

Florida is the “Fishing Capital of the World.” Sportfishing contributes $9.6 billion per year to the state’s economy and supports over 128,000 jobs, making the state an important focus of the industry. Continued industry success in Florida depends on clean waters, abundant fisheries, and access to both. Therefore, the American Sportfishing Association strongly supports expediting comprehensive efforts to restore the Everglades’ historic southerly flow of water, with an emphasis on those projects that will have the greatest and most immediate impact on the system.

Record south Florida rainfall amounts in January 2016 and hurricane and tropical storm events in September 2017 resulted in large-volume, emergency releases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from Lake Okeechobee (Lake) to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and associated estuaries to relieve water levels above 16’.  When Lake levels exceed this height, The USACE becomes concerned about failure of the Herbert Hoover Dike (Dike) that surrounds the Lake. These repetitive and substantial freshwater discharges cause extensive habitat and fisheries damage to coastal estuaries.

High water levels in the Lake damage vegetation, affecting its world-renowned bass fishery, and increase phosphorus levels in the water column.  In addition, large salinity fluctuations in Florida Bay due to inconsistent water deliveries to the south result in large-scale seagrass die-offs, threatening vital marine nursery resources.

These ongoing emergency situations and releases highlight the need to quickly complete Everglades restoration projects that will restore the natural southward flow of freshwater to Florida Bay and reduce the need for substantial discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west.

Our Position

To achieve maximum benefit and provide urgent relief to the Everglades system and stop harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, ASA strongly supports Everglades’ restoration and the southerly flow of water from central Florida through to Florida Bay.

ASA advocates the immediate authorization and funding of CEPP projects, synchronized and expedited timeframes on storage elements north and south of the Lake and Florida and Biscayne Bay projects.

ASA supports accelerating the entire restoration and recovery of the Everglades.

ASA supports acquisition of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area and Federal (such as H.R. 4793) and State of Florida legislation to provide resources. In addition, the industry supports temporary water solutions such as emergency diversion of water flows to the south and temporary storage solutions that would decrease the need for releases from Lake to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

Background

Drainage of South Florida “swampland” began in the late 1800s, but significant projects to divert water and dry the land were not begun in earnest until the devastating hurricanes of the late 1920s. These natural disasters caused massive flooding and loss of life and resulted in the construction of the 170-mile Herbert Hoover Dike (Dike) along Lake Okeechobee (Lake) in the 1930s.

In 1948, Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project for “flood control, water level control, water conservation, prevention of salt water intrusion, and preservation of fish and wildlife.”

This project resulted in extensive water control structures (canals, water storage, levees, pumps, etc.) to manage and regulate water in central and south Florida. Significant environmental impacts in the 1980s culminated in a re-evaluation of the C&SF by the USACE.  In response to the restudy, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000.

The goal of CERP is to restore the historic southerly water flow patterns to the Everglades by addressing the quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of water in the South Florida system. CERP established a 50-50 cost share between the state and federal government with an original estimate of $9.5 billion for 68 projects over a 30-year period.  Many of these projects are currently underway or nearing completion.

Major Remaining CERP Projects:

  • Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP): expedited series of high-impact, beneficial CERP elements that will improve water storage and movement south of Lake Okeechobee. CEPP was authorized by Congress in 2016 and is awaiting federal funding, though work on priority components has been initiated by the state of Florida.
  • Water storage around the Lake: watershed storage on the north side of the Lake will allow for more flexibility in maintaining safe water levels in the Lake, significantly reducing the need for releases to the northern estuaries. In addition, this storage will also provide an ecological benefit by treating and filtering water before it enters the Lake. Planning for this and a similar project on the southwest side of the Lake is in progress. Storage south of the Lake in the Everglades Agricultural Area will benefit water quality and flow through Everglades National Park to Florida Bay.
  • Dike repairs: while Dike repairs are not necessary to restore southerly water flow, they will allow for improved control of Lake water levels and reduce the need for emergency, high-volume east-west releases.
  • Delivery of water to Florida and Biscayne bays: projects that will diffuse and spread water over larger areas on the eastern side of the Everglades, mimicking historic water flow patterns, will improve freshwater flows to Florida Bay.

Restoration Status

Water quality has dominated Florida headlines in recent years with impacts from high-volume, emergency releases from the Lake to the estuaries in 2016 and 2017.

ASA strongly supports efforts being made on the federal and state levels to address Florida’s water quality issues that can have an impact on fisheries habitat and management. Long term solutions at the federal level include timely authorization of proposed Everglades restoration projects with sufficient appropriations and the acceleration of planning and construction timeframes. The 2016 Water Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN), a version of WRDA, authorized CEPP and made it available for federal appropriation.

Funding for USACE projects, of which there are many nationwide in various stages of completion vying for limited resources, must be granted money in the annual Energy and Water federal appropriations bill.  Project costs are technically shared 50%-50% under the state and federal partnership.  However, it is estimated that the federal government is $1 billion behind the state of Florida in their actual appropriations.  Florida currently provides more than $200 million annually for restoration projects, while the USACE budget was $70 million in 2016.  In its 2017-2018 state budget, Florida provided an additional $50 million for the federal Dike rehabilitation.

Additional federal appropriations could be made available through the Disaster Relief Bill (HR 4667) for Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.  The bill was approved by the US House of Representatives in December 2017, but is still awaiting action by the Senate.  It would provide $12 billion to be spent on repairs and prevention of USACE projects, which should include some components of Everglades restoration.

The USACE has initiated planning on the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) to provide storage and wetlands restoration north of the Lake, with a tentatively selected plan available in early 2018.  Preliminary modeling indicates discharge reductions of approximately 50%.  Planning is also underway on the Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP) that will provide similar benefits on the southwest side of the Lake.

While initiated at the same time as northern storage planning, the WERP process is not as far along due to the need for consultation with Tribal Nations in plan development and potential cultural sites in the project area.

Deep injection wells (DIWs) were removed from consideration by the USACE for the LOWRP because they were not contained in the “yellow book,” the original Everglades restoration guidebook.  The SFWMD is expected to move forward on DIWs independently of the USACE.  DIWs can be constructed relatively quickly and at a comparatively low cost for use in high water situations to reduce the need for Lake discharges.  Because of these benefits, ASA supports the implementation of DIWs north of Lake Okeechobee.

At the state level, legislation expediting the planning process for the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir (EAASR) and funding the project was signed into law in 2017.  The legislation requires modification of the CEPP storage component to provide additional storage capacity.  Since that time, the South Florida Water Management District has worked to determine an optimal design for the project to be submitted to the USACE in March 2018.

This timeline would allow for sufficient review and approval of the EAASR project by the USACE to ensure it is available for Congressional authorization in a 2018 WRDA bill.  Currently, two “best buy” configurations (one 240,000 acre-feet option and one 360,000 acre-feet option) are undergoing final optimizations to determine the best design for the project, given the parameters required by statute.   Initial modeling indicates the configurations in conjunction with CEPP conveyance would meet the CERP goal of sending an additional 300,000 acre-feet of water south each year and would decrease discharges by approximately 50%.