Overview of the Issue

The Florida Everglades are not only an environmental wonder but also provide essential “plumbing” to move water south in the state, recharging the Biscayne Aquifer and ultimately supplying necessary freshwater to Florida Bay. However, the flow and structure of the Everglades has been substantially altered for over 100 years. The restoration of 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.

Increasing record rainfall and tropical events have resulted in repetitive discharges from the Lake to the east and west to avoid breaching the surrounding Herbert Hoover Dike (Dike) when water levels rise above 16’. The discharges have resulted in significant environmental impacts ranging from habitat loss of seagrass and oyster beds to blue-green algal blooms, as well as economic impacts.

On The Line – Everglades

Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Southeast Fisheries Policy Director discusses restoration of the Florida Everglades.

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What ASA is Doing

ASA’s Government Affairs Committee adopted an updated position statement on Everglades restoration in March 2018 outlining ASA’s support of comprehensive efforts to restore water flow to its historic southerly flow through the system, while emphasizing the need to expedite and speed up the timeframes for completion of all restoration projects and increase federal and state funding.

Restoration progress continues to be made, both on construction, planning and policy levels. Federal funding for authorized Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects is a high priority for the American Sportfishing Association and is key to expediting the restoration process. While restoration costs are to be shared 50/50 between the state and federal government, the federal government has lagged significantly behind the state in their actual investment. Florida continues to provide more than $400 million annually for restoration projects, while annual funding from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has typically hovered around $100 million. However, the 2020 federal budget appropriated $200 million, a historic level, and the President’s 2021 budget requests $250 million from Congress.

The 2018 Water Resource Development Act (WRDA, S. 3021) authorized the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir; despite procedural challenges with the USACE, construction began this summer. The Act also instructed the USACE to begin revisions to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule so that the new schedule can be in place once rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is completed in 2022. ASA has advocated for environmental impacts to habitat and fisheries, both in the estuaries and the Lake, to be considered in USACE’s process.

In 2019, the USACE regulated Lake levels through discharges early in the year to reduce their need during warmer months when algal blooms are more likely. Because of this and a relatively “normal” rainfall year, discharges to the estuaries were largely avoided. Continuing to help relieve discharges was a “normal-dry” 2020 and an increase in ability to send water south due to operational changes by the USACE and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Additional water can be sent south once the final phase of the Tamiami Trail is completed in 2024 – the final construction contract has been awarded.

Planning is ongoing on water quality and storage projects that will address restoration on tribal lands to the west. The USACE is finalizing its plans for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project, and the Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration Project has been submitted for Congressional authorization in the WRDA 2020 bill. The SFWMD is developing a science plan and moving ahead with pilot projects to assess placement of Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells on the north side of the Lake as part of LOWRP.

On December 8, 2020, the the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 (S. 1811), which now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has strongly advocated for WRDA 2020, which includes numerous policies that support water quality, aquatic resource conservation and fishing access. Read more >

In late March of 2021, the South Florida Water Management District began the process of removing 5.5 miles of the Old Tamiami Trail roadbed as part of the ongoing effort to return the Everglades’ historic flow of water South. The $7 million project is expected to increase the flow of freshwater into the Northeast Shark River Slough by more than 220 billion gallons below per year. ⁣The restoration of the historic flow is essential to maintaining ecological balance, which is vital to the health of our fisheries, habitat and water quality.

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For more information, contact ASA Southeast Fisheries Policy Director Martha Guyas.