South Bay, Fla. – Feb. 22, 2023 -- Groundbreaking ceremonies have been used for centuries to celebrate the start of a new venture and give thanks to those who blazed a trail and made it possible. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, and the South Florida Water Management District teamed with federal, state, and local officials along with stakeholders to break ground for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir, a major component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that reconnects Lake Okeechobee water to the central Everglades.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District commander, Col. James Booth, reminded everyone in attendance of the rich history, present construction and the path ahead of construction for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project. With the backdrop of two massive granite piles used for the construction site, he welcomed the crowd and quickly assured everyone of the commitment both USACE and SFWMD have made to advancing Everglades projects that make a difference for the environment and the quality of life for people in South and Central Florida.
“This is a timely ceremony, a great opportunity to recognize all the efforts of the USACE team, SFWMD and you because many consider the EAA Restoration Project to be the "Crown Jewel" of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan," said Booth. "The reservoir is a game-changer for the Everglades and South Florida.
SFWMD is constructing the storm water treatment area, which is a 6,500-acre treatment wetland that will allow more water to flow south into the Everglades. The treatment wetland is scheduled to reach completion this year. The wetland will use three separate treatment cells of aquatic vegetation to naturally remove nutrient pollution and clean water before it flows south into the Everglades.
USACE is constructing the reservoir, which will be 10,500-acres with 240,000 acre-feet of static water storage. This project will capture, store, treat and deliver more clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay, where it is needed, while protecting the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries from harmful and damaging releases from Lake Okeechobee.
In conjunction with other Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) features, this project will deliver an annual average of 360,000 acre-feet of clean water south to the Everglades.
Booth said the project will be able to capture, store, treat and release lake water to the central and southern Everglades instead of diverting water or having to send it east and west to the estuaries.
"When completed, this massive reservoir will cover 10,500 acres, or approximately 16 square miles, an area similar to the cities of Stuart and Fort Myers put together," said Booth. More than 17 million cubic yards of earthen material will be used to construct an embankment that is about 37 feet tall and will store water about 23 feet deep. That translates to a capacity of approximately 240,000 acre-feet of water, or about 5000 spaceship earth balls at Epcot Centers.”
The ceremony celebrated the start of work on the EAA Reservoir and show cased the progression of work on the EAA A-2 Storm water Treatment Area currently being built by SFWMD.
The total cost of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) EAA phase is estimated at $3.9 billion, a huge investment in Everglades Restoration.
“It’s always good to be here with the mighty USACE Jacksonville District and the SFWMD team,” Michael L. Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.“ Today we celebrate a crucial milestone for Everglades restoration and this is another hallmark project by USACE. The Biden Administration remains committed to ensuring the success of Everglades restoration by continuing to dedicate major resources to this project.”
Building Everglades Restoration also builds resiliency for south Florida. Being able to store more water from the lake and ultimately sends more water south will benefit the entire region – improving the health of Lake Okeechobee, reducing releases to the estuaries, rehydrating wetlands in the central Everglades and Everglades National Park, and improving the health of Florida Bay.
“When we started this project in 2018, it was hard to imagine that we would get here, much less in under five years,” said Chrissie Figueroa, EAA Project Manager, Jacksonville District. “Our USACE team has worked very hard to get to this point and It is nice to take the opportunity to break ground on an innovative project of this size while solving some of our nation’s toughest challenges through engineering.”
The EAA Reservoir Project will benefit both Florida’s environment and economy. In addition to more clean water for the Everglades, the project is creating jobs and providing a significant boost to the nearby local economies south of Lake Okeechobee.
Being able to store more water from the lake and ultimately send more water south will benefit the entire region by improving the health of Lake Okeechobee, reducing releases to the estuaries, rehydrating wetlands in the central Everglades and Everglades National Park, and improving the health of Florida Bay.
“Drew Bartlett, Executive Director, SFWMD thanked USACE, his staff at SFWMD, the community, legislators and contractors for their hard work to get to this point.
“Breaking ground on the long-anticipated EAA Reservoir is a monumental achievement for the restoration and protection of America’s Everglades," said Bartlett. When have we turned a concept and an idea from senate bill 10 into finishing a wetland treatment system and starting a massive, incredible reservoir in six years?… that doesn’t happen,” said Bartlett.
“Do not ever doubt the folks at the Jacksonville District and the SFWMD, we are ready to get busy and get stuff done. This is it, this is what we are going to get done.”
The EAA Reservoir Project is a joint Everglades restoration project between the SFWMD and USACE.
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, Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong, and Instagram at www.instagram.com/jacksonvilledistrict.