Everglades Restoration

The Conservancy Policy Department advocates for CERP projects and funding to restore the River of Grass, reduce damaging discharges of polluted water to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and send clean water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

Aerial view, Everglades Natuional Park, FLORIDA, USA, AMERICA

Current situation

The Everglades once stretched from just south of Orlando, through the Kissimmee chain of lakes, into Lake Okeechobee and all the way south to Florida Bay.  The Everglades of today is less than half of its original size and has lost over 70 percent of its water flow due to urban and agricultural development and the creation of flood control canal systems that have drained the landscape.  This loss has altered the ecosystem, particularly the timing and volume of the water supply needed to maintain the biological integrity of these wetlands. The number of native birds and other wildlife has dwindled, and some have vanished completely.

The Everglades is one of the largest wetlands in the world and is essential for cleansing and purifying water that flows from the north before it enters Florida Bay and the Keys area off the southern tip of Florida. It also provides the drinking water of over 8 million Floridians by replenishing the aquifer systems relied upon for public water supplies.

everglades restoration

In 2000, Congress approved the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a multi-billion-dollar plan to save a national treasure. CERP includes 68 different project components necessary to complete the restoration puzzle and restore the connected ecosystems of the Greater Everglades.  Key elements of the plan are in various stages of planning, construction, and implementation by the state and federal 50/50 partnership between the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Click here to read more.


The Conservancy of Southwest Florida advocates for a comprehensive approach to restore clean water to the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades. We advocate for science-based solutions that would benefit the environment, public health, and the safety of all of communities in South Florida.


The C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir is a key component of the larger Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). This critical storage reservoir is about the size of the City of Naples. It will hold 170,000-acre feet of water, which will be collected over the rainy season and then released back out to the Caloosahatchee during the dry season when the river desperately needs more fresh water. The Caloosahatchee can quickly swing from not enough water in the dry season to too much during the rainy season, underscoring the need for major storage projects like the C-43 reservoir and water management policy that better balances and prioritizes the needs of the ecosystems and natural resources that underpin our economy.

Since groundbreaking began in 2019, 19 miles of levees and perimeter canals have been constructed around the C-43 Reservoir and construction is on track to complete the reservoir by 2025.

The C-43 Reservoir project will ultimately help improve insufficient flows to the Caloosahatchee during dry periods.

Caloosahatchee Algae 062518 Alva Boat Ramp 02
Everglades Purple Sunset Xl 1105481

Everglades Agricultural area (EAA) RESERVOIR

The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) encompasses an area of the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee that spans 700,000 acres and encompasses 27 percent of the historic Everglades. Sugarcane is the major crop in the EAA. Nutrient runoff from these crops, the result of fertilizers and the use of herbicides and pesticides, as well as the intensive use of water for sugarcane and other crops, are critical challenges for South Florida.

The EAA Reservoir is one of the original Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects.  A key part of the solution to a complex water quality problem, the EAA Reservoir will provide needed water storage, treatment, and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries and send water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay. 

In 2017, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 10, which accelerates the planning and provides funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. The project includes a combination conveyance improvement, a stormwater treatment area (STA), and a reservoir to reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries, send more water south, and improve water quality in the Everglades. Site work began for the reservoir in 2020, as well as STA construction. 

The STA is a 6,500-acre constructed wetland. 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. The 10,500-acre reservoir will be able to store 240,000 acre-feet of water.

In February of 2023 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) broke ground on the reservoir component, and in January 2024 started filling cell one of the STA. It is expected that STA cells 2 and 3 will be online summer of 2024 and the reservoir completed in 2030.

Picayune Strand Restoration Project

In the early 1960s, a team of developers in eastern Collier County purchased tens of thousands of acres of this undeveloped land in order to construct what would be considered the largest subdivision in the country, the Southern Golden Gate Estates. To achieve this, an extensive canal system was excavated draining the area of its seasonal waters and ultimately altering the drainage patterns of the western Big Cypress Basin.

The development scheme ultimately failed, leaving the natural landscape dramatically altered with roads and canals crisscrossing and changing the wetland ecosystem into a distressed environment.   In an effort to restore natural conditions within the PSSF, plans for hydrologic restoration were developed and included “plugging 48 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of crumbling roads, and constructing three major pump stations,” all of which is currently underway.

The Picayune Strand Restoration Project is the first Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) to begin construction.

Today, the PSRP is approximately 90% complete. Three massive pump stations have been constructed, and many miles of canals have been plugged along with the degrading and removal of roads to allow water to flow. One of the last hurdles is the Southwest Protection Feature (SWPF), a 7.1-mile levee and canal, plus culverts, which are being designed to protect adjacent properties (primarily in agriculture) from any potential flooding risks from the restored flow of water across the landscape.

The SWPF is one of the last remaining construction prerequisites to plugging the final canals and fully implementing of all the project’s restoration features and ecological benefits. Until it is built, only about 30% of the ecological benefits can be realized due to construction and operational constraints in place until this project component is complete.

Restoring the hydrology of the PSSF provides direct benefits to the western Everglades and downstream estuaries, reduces freshwater releases, and restores and enhances habitat for fish and wildlife.

Picayune (11)

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

Oil and Gas Exploration

Oil exploration projects, or seismic surveys, threaten thousands of acres of land in Southwest Florida. These projects may result in adverse hydrologic impacts, disturb wildlife, impact soils and vegetation, and may eventually lead to an expansion of oil drilling in the area.

Photo of crews and damage associated with oil and gas exploration

Why It Matters

These surveys involve the use of large trucks or explosives to send vibrations deep underground. These vibrations are used to generate data intended to locate geological formations that are likely to contain oil or gas. The oil company then uses this information to advance oil drilling projects.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is actively involved in monitoring such projects to ensure avoidance of impacts to our water, wildlife, and sensitive lands.

For many years, the Conservancy has been advocating against Burnett Oil Company’s damaging seismic survey within the Big Cypress National Preserve. Despite our legal challenge against this proposal, the first phase of this project was authorized to cover 70,540 acres within the sensitive lands of the Preserve. The project used large trucks weighing over 30-tons — referred to as vibroseis buggies — to generate the vibrations.

Read more about the Burnett Seismic Survey here and here.

Click here to view a video showing vibroseis trucks.

More information about the Burnett Oil Company’s plans and opportunities to protect the Big Cypress National Preserve can be found here.

interested in learning more? dive deep into the documents and resources on this topic and others by heading to the Policy Resource Center!

Everglades Restoration

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is actively working towards a comprehensive approach to restore clean water. We advocate for science-based solutions that would benefit the environment, public health, and safety of all South Florida communities.

On September 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian, a near Category 5 storm, hit Southwest Florida causing billions in damage to infrastructure, homes, and businesses. As the storm surge floods came and went, they took with them structural debris, sand, gas, oil, and other volatile chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico. The once clear blue and vibrant coastal waters were left brown, turbid, and full of unknown debris. See the before and after aerial images in the map below. 

In the following days and weeks, storm runoff continued to flow into Southwest Florida from both coastal and inland watersheds, continuing to bring contaminants, nutrients, and raw sewage. Although water quality was poor prior to Hurricane Ian, we now have a perfect storm of water quality impacts and economic ramifications.

Many of you may be experiencing the ripple effects firsthand. 

However, we can use this as a motive to create change and inform how governments, agencies, and other stakeholders move forward.  Southwest Florida has a great opportunity as it rebuilds and restores after Hurricane Ian to restore natural areas and implement various low-impact development or green stormwater practices for water quality improvement and storm surge protection.

In addition, protecting wetlands and mangroves is critical. The impacts of Hurricane Ian have put additional stress on an already impacted system. Many local and regional waterbodies are already included on the state list of impaired waters for nutrients, low dissolved oxygen, metals (like copper and mercury), and bacteria.

At the local level, continuing to implement stringent fertilizer and stormwater ordinances, as well as moving forward with the Naples Beach Outfalls project are some ways to effectively and proactively address pollutant sources and related water quality issues.   

Why it matters

When water quality is poor, and beaches are closed local economies are disrupted due to loss of tourism income (1) and property values decline. (2)  

Severe blooms of red tide can result in increased mortality rates of turtles, marine mammals, and fish. (3)  

Birds foraging in areas of high red tide concentrations are found to have increased rates of toxicosis. (4) 

Cyanotoxins from harmful blue-green algae blooms in fresh and brackish water disrupt food webs and under the right conditions can result in fishkills. (5)  

What's wrong

We at the Conservancy are concerned because it is clear that so much pollution (nutrients, untreated sewage, toxic chemicals, etc.) went into our waterways during and after Hurricane Ian. This is compounded by the fact that many of Southwest Florida’s waters were already failing to meet water quality standards even before the storm (see our Estuaries Report Card).

The fact that we now have the red tide organism Karenia brevis compounding the problem, and additional polluted runoff coming from coastal and inland watersheds, creates an implosion of water quality concerns for both the environment and the public. While red tide is naturally occurring, the science is clear that once it comes inshore, it is fueled and fed by polluted runoff from anthropogenic sources.  

There is no one website or database where the public can go to learn about water quality hazards and conditions.  If someone is looking for information to see if it is safe to go into the water at their favorite beach they will have to visit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for current red tide status, Florida Healthy Beaches for presence of bacteria at beaches and, Mote Beach Conditions Reporting System for other factors such as debris, respiratory impacts etc. While this website does report on many locations along the west coast of Florida from Pensacola to Marco Island, the beaches are monitored by volunteers and not all beaches are monitored regularly.  

While Hurricane Ian understandably disrupted data collection, not all these data gaps can be blamed on hurricane impacts, Florida’s Healthy Beaches website has a gap in data from September 10 - October 10, a gap starting 18 days before the hurricane hit. Moreover, six weeks post-storm there remained a void of information. People unaware have returned to the beaches. Efforts to educate the public on the hazards seem insufficient and an easily accessible comprehensive data collection website is lacking, leaving the average person unaware of the water quality issues daily.

While the storm amplified the issue, insufficient information on beach safety is not a new issue.

In 2021, State Senator Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach) and State Representative Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D-Gainesville) filed SB 604 and HB 393 (Safe Waterways Act) requiring municipalities and counties to post health advisory signs for affected beach waters. The bill died in committee.

This has major public health and safety implications.  

This isn’t to say that agencies, scientists, and other stakeholders are not actively engaged in water quality.  In fact, university researchers, and other scientists from SCCF (Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation), CHNEP (Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership), University of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, local counties and others are collecting data and meeting weekly to discuss efforts. However, causes for concern include post-storm rise in cases of Vibrio vulnificus (often incorrectly referred to as flesh-eating bacteria) and the lack of rapid testing technology available, along with the ecological and economic impacts from growing red tide blooms.  

Now more than ever, consistent water quality testing and posting to a central updated and easily accessible website is essential.  

The Fix

  • Expedite funding and construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, a critical piece of the restoration puzzle to help reduce the harmful discharges and send clean water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay. 
  • Maintain momentum for completion of the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir to improve flows to the Caloosahatchee during dry periods. 
  • Protect remaining natural wetlands and flow ways to maintain existing natural storage and treatment capacity. 
  • Control pollution at its source by updating stormwater standards, developing and implementing water quality pollution limits and restoration plans (Total Maximum Daily Loads and Basin Management Action Plans), and implementing the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force to address nutrient pollution sources.

What you can do

The best thing you can do is to stay Informed.

The Conservancy has evaluated many of the water quality data collection programs conducted by both agencies and non-profits as they relate to Southwest Florida.  

You may find these resources below helpful if you want to learn more about water quality in your area.

Click here for a look at our complete list.

Clean water is critical for ecosystem function, wildlife survival, and public health. Tourism is a preeminent economic driver in Southwest Florida. Visitors from all over the world come to visit our beaches, fish our waters, and experience the Everglades.

While here, they eat in our restaurants, shop, and stay in our hotels. Thus, protecting the waters where we live, work, and play should be our community’s highest priority. It is imperative that we look at water quality from a holistic perspective.

Economic growth is important but not at the expense of our future. The quality of water is tied directly to our actions on land. There is not one quick fix that will protect us from anthropogenic environmental impacts or future storms.

The time to act is now, not tomorrow, not next year, but today.