Restore the Everglades
For the last 30+ years, people have been talking about how to “re-plumb” the Everglades. Today, the water management issues in south Florida are as complex as ever.
In January 2016, record rainfall caused Lake Okeechobee to reach dangerously high levels. To protect the lake’s system of dikes from failing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began pumping huge quantities of water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. This was a solution that could cause problems on both coasts, including fish kills and seagrass die-off.
As part of an emergency relief plan, former Governor Rick Scott requested the Army Corps of Engineers to release water south into the Everglades. The Corps of Engineers, along with state agencies, worked together to release the water and help relieve some of the strain on the rivers. In December 2016, President Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act into law, authorizing $1.95 billion for the crucial Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) and $113 million for Picayune Strand water flow restoration in Collier County. CEPP is an important step toward facilitating the flow and treatment of water south of Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades, reducing the need for water releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary systems that have resulted in extensive habitat and fisheries damages.
Florida has provided record funding of 350 million for Everglades restoration (2019-2020), the federal government is poised to provide $200 million in 2020, project timelines are being expedited where possible, and several remaining projects are projected to be included for Congressional authorization in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act. In addition, the USACE and SFWMD have worked together on water management strategies to minimize the need for Lake Okeechobee releases, and the USACE is currently revising the Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule to accommodate new strategies and needs as restoration projects come online. An overview of progress was made at the July 2019 FWC meeting.