For the past two years, the word being used to describe Everglades restoration has been a very positive one – momentum.
When the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved in 2000, it and other Everglades restoration foundation projects encompassed one of the largest and most complex human engineering projects ever, and the early days were filled with a lot of slow and difficult work on policy.
“I started my Everglades career at the beginning of CERP formulation,” Said Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the U.S. Department of the Interior, and one of a group of panelists discussing federal efforts at the 37th Everglades Coalition Conference held in Duck Key, Florida, Jan. 7-8. “I have watched administrations navigate almost every phase of this program. I can say the toughest years in my tenure were what I call the big policy years – 2001-2013 when both the state and federal governments were trying to cut a path for CERP through this huge, entangled water and infrastructure policy.”
Estenoz said it was new ground for everyone, as the government had never tried anything so complex. It took a long time to work the policy out, and even longer to find room in federal and state budgets to execute the plan.
While Estenoz said there is still occasional need to address specific policy issues for the massive projects that make up the components of CERP, at this point “we are squarely in the implementation phase.”
Following Estenoz on the panel discussion was Col. James Booth, the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. He said the implementation phase is well under way, and he brought facts to prove the point.
“I want to highlight the incredible progress we’ve made on CERP’s 68 components,” Booth said to start his remarks. “Let’s talk about where we are. Twenty of those components are either complete or phase 1 has been implemented. Twenty are authorized or currently under construction. Eight more are in planning or feasibility studies. Eighteen are left out there with upcoming studies.”
Of the completed items? Booth pointed to one that was celebrated less than two months ago.
“Just last month, the C-44 reservoir, part of the IRL-South project, celebrated its ribbon cutting ceremony, and I had the blessing of being there for that,” Booth said. “Over 50,000 acre feet of storage, which will tie into the South Florida Water Management District’s stormwater treatment area that is co-located. This will restore the balance of fresh and salt water in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary and provide significant water quality and clarity. The C-44 reservoir is being filled as we speak.”
In addition to CERP projects completed, Booth said there was another success this year when a project that pre-dated the 2020 law but was also critically important.
“In July, Kissimmee River Restoration Project celebrated its ribbon cutting ceremony,” Booth said. “That project has been going since 1999 and just finished. We restored over 40 square miles of river floodplain ecosystem, and the wildlife is already returning to the restored areas, and it is a great success. Although not a CERP project, this was a very important foundation project.”
Booth also pointed out that the efforts of the Everglades Coalition to push projects and policy to the front led to one of the best years in a decade for the Everglades National Park in terms of water flows based on the first full year under the new Combined Operational Plan.
“For 2021, we had the third best year for flows into the Everglades south of Tamiami Trail,” Booth said. “Nearly 1.4 million acre feet flowed into that area. The two years ahead of 2021 were when Hurricane Irma and Tropical Storm Eta hit Florida. We had the third best year for sending water under the Tamiami Trial in a year where we had slightly less than normal precipitation for Florida, showing what the combined operational plan can do.”
And keeping up the momentum, Booth pointed out that the flight pattern is full for years to come with important Everglades restoration projects.
Currently Under Construction:
C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir (under construction by SFWMD)
C-23/24 Stormwater Treatment Area
Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project
Central Everglades Planning Project South
Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir (contract awarded)
A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area (under construction by SFWMD)
Picayune Strand Restoration Project
Currently in Design:
CEPP-New Water Seepage Barrier
Broward County Water Preserve Areas
Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration Project
Projects in Feasibility Study Phase:
Biscayne Bay and Southeastern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration
Western Everglades Restoration Project
Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project
While the work continues and much more lies ahead, Booth said that occasionally we need to step back and celebrate the accomplishments, particularly in a year where we’ve seen so much momentum.
“These are all wins for this broad coalition,” Booth Said. “We really appreciate your passion, commitment, advocacy, and partnership. We’re not there yet, but we are definitely moving in the right direction and seeing results of the coalitions efforts.