Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that site work has begun for the EAA Reservoir Project after recently receiving the required federal permit.
SFWMD is now working on the project site for the 6,500-acre treatment wetland component, known as a Stormwater Treatment Area (STA), of the EAA Reservoir Project.
The EAA Reservoir Project is one of the most important Everglades restoration projects. The project provides ecological benefits, reduces harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, and sends more clean water south to the Everglades. DeSantis expedited this project on his second day in office with the signing of an executive order.
“Today marks a critical milestone for Everglades restoration and achieving our state’s long-term environmental goals,” said DeSantis on Thursday. “When I took office, I made expediting the EAA Reservoir Project a top priority. Beginning construction means we are a big step closer to moving more clean water south to the Everglades and lessening harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”
In advance of the issuance of this permit, the South Florida Water Management District executed a $1.3 million contract for this first phase of construction on the Stormwater Treatment Area component of the EAA Reservoir Project so that work could begin as soon as possible. The entire project is expected to cost more than $1.8 billion, creating hundreds of jobs and providing a boost to the nearby local economies south of Lake Okeechobee.
After the initial site preparation, the South Florida Water Management District will begin construction of canals and berms for the Stormwater Treatment Area in the coming months.
“We did it. I’m proud to report that work has begun on the EAA Reservoir Project. Its benefits to our Estuaries and the Everglades are finally within sight,” said Chauncey Goss, the chairman of the SFWMD. “Thanks to the leadership of Governor DeSantis, support from the Florida Legislature, and the dedication of the SFWMD Governing Board, we are starting this critical project 12 months early. I can tell you that we are full steam ahead to complete this project for the benefit of both our environment and our economy.”
“I applaud the leadership of Governor DeSantis in expediting and advancing vital Everglades restoration projects like the EAA Reservoir Project,” said DEP Sec. Noah Valenstein. “DEP looks forward to working with the water management district to complete this important project that will store and treat water, moving water south into the Everglades and protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”
“This is a big deal,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “This is another step that allows us to continue the momentum we’ve experienced over the past few years in restoring the ecosystem in south Florida. Much still remains to be done, but we are happy with the progress we continue to make on this critical project.”
“This is welcome news both for our environment and our economy, and we are especially grateful to Governor DeSantis for his persistent leadership on this project,” said Eric Eikenberg, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation. “Thanks to his unyielding support, we will be able to break ground at least a year sooner than expected – and it could not happen at a better time. Construction of the Everglades Reservoir will mean thousands of jobs for people who desperately need them now. Its completion, together with other projects already underway, will reduce algae-causing discharges by more than half, helping save many more Florida jobs in tourism, hospitality, real estate and recreational fishing in the long run. For America’s Everglades and Florida Bay, this announcement is a welcome lifeline. After more than 20 years, we are finally moving forward with a project that will deliver massive amounts of clean, fresh water south to the Everglades, under the bridges of Tamiami Trail, and ultimately to Florida Bay.”
“The EAA Storage Reservoir and STA Project remains the single most important Everglades restoration initiative awaiting construction. With this permit, the STA piece of the project will increase our capacity to both clean water and allow it to flow south into a parched Everglades National Park and Florida Bay,” said Audubon Florida’s Executive Director Julie Wraithmell. “It has been incredibly dry, and the timing of this permit approval is perfect. Moving water south ensures we are replenishing our aquifers. We need that freshwater for the sake of the bay, the park, and for South Florida families.”
“Now more than ever we are seeing the importance of clean water for our economy and way of life,” said Captain Daniel Andrews, the executive director of Captains for Clean Water. “The EAA Reservoir and STA have been held up for far too long. This project will allow more clean water to flow south where it is desperately needed in Florida Bay, and alleviate harmful toxic discharges to the coasts.”
“This is a tremendous boost to the morale of millions of Floridians, many of whom have worked so hard and waited for this day to arrive,” said Kimberly Mitchell, the executive director of the Everglades Trust. “Governor DeSantis is shepherding through the critical component of Everglades restoration – something that eluded every governor before him. Whatever the Trust can do to help speed up this STA component so the Corps can begin building the reservoir, we will do. We’ve got thousands of volunteers with shovels, ready to go. Just say the word!”
“We are thrilled to see the progress being made on advancing the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project,” said Rob Moher, the president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “The fact that the Stormwater Treatment Area is beginning construction underscores the commitment by the SFWMD governing board and state leadership to expedite this key Everglades restoration project. The EAA Reservoir is a long-awaited piece of the restoration puzzle that will reduce harmful high-flow discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by storing and treating water to send south to the Everglades, benefiting our environment and our communities that suffer when damaging discharges occur. The STA component is absolutely essential for fully realizing the project’s ecosystem benefits, and we applaud this swift action by the SFWMD.”
“Florida’s economy depends on clean water which is why we need this project up and running now more than ever,” said Lisa Interlandi, the executive director of Everglades Law Center. “The Stormwater Treatment Area is the key to sending water south and preventing toxic discharges to our coasts, so kudos to Governor DeSantis for expediting its construction, for the benefit of our environment and our economy.”
“We applaud Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for their continued commitment to Florida’s Everglades,” said Jim McDuffie, the president and CEO of Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. “Starting construction on the EAA Storage Reservoir Project is indeed a milestone for restoration. The project will breathe new life into Florida Bay’s fisheries and bring much needed relief from toxic algae blooms at our coastal estuaries.”
The EAA Reservoir Project is a joint Everglades restoration project between the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. SFWMD is building the water-cleansing Stormwater Treatment Area, which is expected to be complete in 2023. The U.S. Army Corps will build the 10,000-acre storage reservoir, which is expected to be complete in 2028.
Up on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., weighed in on the news.
“The importance of Everglades restoration to Florida’s water quality and environment cannot be overstated, and I welcome the announcement that site work on the EAA Reservoir Storage, an important component of CEPP, has begun,” Rubio said. “The recent progress we have made on Everglades restoration is critical. We’re finally on a path to completion within our lifetime, and I will not let us slide back into complacency. The restoration of our Everglades is too important to leave unfinished.”