LORIDA, Fla. - July 29, 2021 --The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District celebrated a ribbon-cutting event to commemorate the completion of the construction for the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. The Kissimmee River Restoration Project restores more than 40 square miles of the river floodplain ecosystem, 20,000 acres of wetlands, and 44 miles of the historic river channel.
“The Kissimmee River Restoration Project was the first successful large-scale active riverine ecosystem restoration project in the country, and even in the world,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander and host of the event.
“All eyes were on us. The world watched as we set the standard and created the model for science-based ecosystem restoration projects worldwide. The Kissimmee River Restoration is proof positive that if we build it right, they will come, and serves as the foundation for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.” Said Kelly.
This major restoration effort is a 50-50 partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Over the past 22 years, the USACE and SFWMD worked together to:
Complete backfilling of 22-miles of the C-38 canal between Lakes Kissimmee and Okeechobee.
Reconstruct remnant river channels across the backfilled canal to reconnect and restore flow in remnant river channels.
Remove two water control structures.
Add two gates to the S-65 water control structure and acquire more than 100,000 acres of land to restore the river and floodplain.
“Today we mark the completion and monumental achievement of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. For more than two decades, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have worked tirelessly to restore this critical ecosystem. The credit for this unprecedented success rightly belongs to the countless hard-working men and women in both the Army Corps and the South Florida Water Management District,” said Jaime Pinkham, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “While we celebrate, we are also reminded of the tremendous amount of work left to be done. President Biden has prioritized environmental restoration in the Everglades, including the largest budget request for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan since its inception. This administration, and my office pledge to continue our work with our Congressional allies to provide the necessary resources to fulfill our commitment here.”
The historic Kissimmee River once meandered for 103 miles through central Florida. Its floodplain, reaching up to two miles wide, was inundated for long periods by heavy seasonal rains. Recurring and prolonged flooding impacted local residents and resulted in Congressional authorization of the Central and Southern Florida Project, which included channelizing the Kissimmee River and floodplain. Construction of the C-38 canal achieved flood reduction benefits, but it also harmed the river-floodplain ecosystem. The decline of the ecosystem spurred federal, state and local partnerships to embark on one of the world’s largest riverine restoration efforts: the Kissimmee River Restoration Project.
“As the headwaters of America's Everglades, the restored Kissimmee River and its floodplain is a legacy for future generations, said Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Department of the Interior. “The Kissimmee proves that when we work together and follow the science, we can bring ecosystems back to health to deliver invaluable services, including wildlife habitat, recreation, climate resilience and water management.”
Since the project began in 1999, the river and its floodplain improved in many ways, including the conversion of nearly 20,000 acres of drained floodplain to ecologically beneficial wetlands. In addition, the project’s efforts resulted in the recovery of the invertebrate community, a crucial food resource for fish and birds.
“It’s so gratifying to see the years of hard work and determination culminating in a manner that is easy to observe on a grand scale by Mother Nature. This river and the efforts required for it to be restored were nothing short of amazing! I am so happy for our state - and our region specifically - to see this project completed,” said Karson Turner, Chairman of the County Coalition. “Thanks to all who worked so tirelessly to make it a reality. This restoration project touches and enhances ecosystems that all Floridians will benefit from for generations. We got it right this time!”
The ceremony marks the completion of the project's construction activities, however additional monitoring will be conducted to measure the project’s success, and additional projects and restoration efforts in the region will support continued restoration of Florida’s iconic Kissimmee River.
“Today we mark the completion and monumental achievement of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project,” said Jaime Pinkham, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, “for more than two decades, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District have worked tirelessly to restore this critical ecosystem. The credit for this unprecedented success rightly belongs to the countless hard-working men and women in both the Army Corps and the South Florida Water Management District,”
Today, we celebrate the completion of the construction phase with many of the people who have worked hard to maintain the momentum on this project for more than 30 years. We owe all of our partners a huge debt of gratitude for their continued support,” said Kelly.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at www.saj.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong.