We need to clean the water, take out the fertilizer and build marshes that are designed to clean the water as it flows south."
THE PATH TO SAVE THE EVERGLADES
Historically, the Everglades used to cover most of South Florida, stretching from present day Orlando all the way south to the Florida Keys. Water from the Kissimmee River would fill Lake Okeechobee and then flow south into the River of Grass. But sadly, this is no longer what the Everglades looks like.
Today, water can no longer freely flow south from Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades Agricultural Area, owned mostly by subsidized sugar companies, sits right where the River of Grass used to begin.
The water in Lake Okeechobee has been contaminated with all kinds of nutrients from agricultural fertilizers, like nitrogen and phosphorus, so much that the water in the lake is considered far too polluted to be sent directly on to the Everglades like it used to.
Instead, we hold all this polluted water in Lake Okeechobee until the water levels become so high that billions of gallons of polluted water have to be dumped down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
Not only is this a waste of precious drinking water, but it also damages our coastal estuaries, kills fish, and contributes to toxic Red Tide that endangers nearly 11 million Floridians up and down the coast.
Meanwhile, The Everglades is desperate for fresh water. Everglades National Park receives less than half of the water it once did, and what’s left of the historic River of Grass will run dry if it doesn’t get more water soon.
So why can’t we just clean all of this extra water and send it south to where it belongs? Well, we’ve been trying.
What we need is a place to store this extra water south of Lake Okeechobee, so that it can be cleaned and then used both for drinking water and for Everglades restoration. And Florida voters are on board.
In 1996, 68% of Florida voters passed the ‘Make the Polluter Pay’ amendment to the Florida constitution, which states:
“Those in the Everglades Agricultural Area who cause water pollution within the Everglades… shall be primarily responsible for paying the costs of the abatement of that pollution.”
To this day, the sugar industry has not come close to paying their share of the costs of the cleanup of the pollution that flows off their land. In fact, we believe the taxpayers have funded more than 80% of the costs. Big Sugar’s lobbying corps makes sure of it.
In 2014, 75% of Florida voters amended the state constitution again. This time, to pass the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment, which:
“Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands… including the Everglades”
This amendment ensures that the state has the money to carry out Everglades Restoration.
ENTER THE BIG PLAN
In 2000, Congress passed the 30-year Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to restore, protect and preserve 18,000 square miles of land and water over 16 Florida counties. The Everglades Foundation worked with nearly two-dozen other private and public organizations to identify the essential goals in working towards fulfilling CERP’s promise.
An agreement was reached with all stakeholders signing off, including sugar and agricultural interests.
At the heart of Everglades restoration is the main goal of reconnecting Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades so ample water can flow south again, get cleansed and released into the Everglades and down to its terminus, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, a 700-square mile estuary of international importance and the headwaters of the Florida Keys.
The plans for Everglades restoration focus on improving and protecting water quality, quantity, timing, and direction; providing water storage needs and restoring the historic water flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
As called for in CERP, the Everglades needs an above-ground reservoir directly south of Lake Okeechobee located in the 500,000 acres of sugar cane fields that make up the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). This EAA reservoir is the most impactful project we can implement to significantly reduce the amount of fresh water that is discharged east and west.
Get to know the flow.
In the past, water flowed south to provide water to Florida’s Everglades and support its thriving ecosystem. Today, water from Lake Okeechobee is redirected to the east and west. Why? Because the water from Lake Okeechobee has been contaminated with agricultural fertilizers like nitrogen and phosphorus, making it far too polluted to send directly south to the Everglades. Instead, that polluted water is directed east and west, damaging coastal estuaries, and causing things like toxic algae blooms.
Thankfully, there is a solution. Building a reservoir that will clean water and send it south will stop damaging discharges to coastal estuaries, rehydrate the Everglades, and ensure clean drinking water for more than 9 million Floridians.