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."
–Chauncey Goss, SFWMD Governing Board Chairman
The Heart of Everglades Restoration
The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir and Treatment Project is the very heart of restoration of the Everglades. It was conditionally authorized in the federal Water Resources Development Act of 2000 as the #2 project of the 68 components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The Water Resources Law of 2017 (Laws of Florida, Chapter 2017-10, Senate Bill 10) directs the expedited design and construction of the EAA Reservoir and Treatment Project.
The project includes a combination of canals, man-made filtration marshes (STAs) to clean the pollution, and a storage reservoir—all intended to increase the quantity and improve water quality in America’s Everglades. As are all CERP projects, it is a 50-50 partnership between the State of Florida and the federal government, including funding and construction projects.
There are two primary agencies tasked with bringing the project online: The South Florida Water Management District and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The District has the dedicated funding necessary and construction work has already begun on widening the canals and constructing the filtration marshes. You can follow the South Florida Water Management District’s portion of their progress on the project RIGHT HERE.
The Army Corps is woefully behind. Congress has authorized the project but has not funded their half. So, as of March 20, 2022, the reservoir construction has not begun. Without funding, even the best-designed project cannot be built.
800-square miles of very thirsty sugarcane directly below a 730-square mile Lake O is blocking, physically and politically, the historic flow of water from the lake into the Everglades. Today, the Everglades receives less than half the water it needs to survive.
The EAA Reservoir and Treatment Project
Because we are forced to work around two politically powerful sugar companies – Florida Crystals and US Sugar – and because that water is far too polluted to be sent straight into the Everglades, we need land dedicated for water storage and treatment
Existing canals from the lake will need to be widened and deepened to move massive amounts of water. The water will be conveyed to a new above-ground reservoir that can only be placed in the EAA (there is no other option) and is nowhere near towns or people. This will be a dynamic reservoir, so water will flow in and out at different times and for different reasons.
During heavy rains, where toxic and polluted Lake O water would otherwise be discharged to both coasts of Florida, this new southern outlet will take that water to the reservoir. In winter months and during drought, the Everglades system will have that water to send south, keeping the wetlands hydrated, and making its way down to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
But that Lake O water is far too polluted to just send straight to the Everglades. So, land is needed that will serve as cleansing filtration marshes to filter out the harmful pollutants (phosphorous, primarily). Only then can that water be released it to the system.
Think of it like this: Catch, clean, release.
Moments Along the Way for More Water Storage South of Lake Okeechobee
2008 – US Sugar approached the state with an offer to sell all their land in the EAA, “Everything including the half-eaten pastrami sandwich in the lunchroom,” declared Robert H. Buker, Jr., president and CEO of US Sugar.
The deal was an elegant solution that would allow the state enough land to build the EAA Reservoir and marsh system, as envisioned in CERP. This was the missing link, the land required to reconnect Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and restore the flow of clean freshwater all the way down Florida Bay, the headwaters of the Florida Keys.
2010 – Agreements were made. Contracts were signed. Press conferences were held. Photos were taken. Then the financial markets collapsed, and everything slowed down.
Despite their own description of how vital this land is to halt the toxic discharges and restore the flow of water to the Everglades, US Sugar eventually reneged on their half of the deal.
2011 – The financial markets had improved. The state had a new Governor but US Sugar was no longer a willing seller.
2014 – Amendment 1 was overwhelming approved by the voters, which would provide the funding for the US Sugar land purchase.
2015 – US Sugar and Florida Crystals lobbied the Legislature to not go through with the land purchase.
2017 – With the commitment and leadership from then-Senate President Joe Negron, Senate Bill 10 was signed into law in 2017, authorizing and providing the state’s portion of the funding for the EAA Reservoir Project.
2018 – Congress provided the required federal authorization and approved a plan developed by the South Florida Water Management District.
2019 – Two days after he was sworn in as Florida’s 46th Governor, Ron DeSantis made expediting the completion of the EAA Storage Reservoir a key priority with one of his first Executive Orders, Executive Order 19-12. The order instructs SFWMD to start the next phase of design work on the project.
2020 – SFWMD Governing Board Fully Funds EAA Reservoir Project’s STA.
2020 – Blasting Begins for Canals at EAA Reservoir Project Site.
2021 – SFWMD signs agreement with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin federal construction on the reservoir component.