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.

CERP

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.

C-43 RESERVOIR

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 2023.

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

Additionally, the South Florida Water Management District is conducting a feasibility study to develop and implement a water quality treatment component for the C-43 Reservoir by 2023. This treatment component will cleanse reservoir water before it is released into the Caloosahatchee.

C-43 Groundbreaking
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 expected to be completed in 2023; the reservoir is expected to be completed in 2028.  

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 80% 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.

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.

Read our report that we provided to the state and federal agencies to demand restoration of the damage from Burnett Oil’s survey.

Click here to view a video showing the vibroseis buggies in action.

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

Lake Okeechobee Management

Lake Okeechobee is the historic heart of the Greater Everglades ecosystem. At over 700 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and is treated as an impounding reservoir often at risk of overflow during the rainy season.

Why It Matters

The Herbert Hoover Dike that contains Lake Okeechobee prevents fresh water from following its historic path southward through the Everglades, while simultaneously keeping the communities surrounding the Lake safe from catastrophic flooding risks.  Too much untreated fresh water is discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries to manage lake levels. Consequently, the lack of fresh water flow through the Everglades makes Florida Bay — the largest contiguous seagrass meadow in the world and crown jewel of Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys — too salty. In order to fix this broken system and restore the flow of freshwater south, a combination of critical Everglades restoration infrastructure projects is needed, along with key changes to how water is managed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of managing Lake Okeechobee and making decisions regarding Lake levels and releasing water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.  The operating manual that guides the Army Corps’ decision-making is in the process of being updated, and the agencies and the public have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to create a more equitable water management system that better balances the needs of the natural systems that underpin south Florida’s tourism-based economy and quality of life.

A revised plan for Lake Okeechobee must help accomplish the following goals:

Decrease the likelihood of toxic discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries; protect the primary water supply for millions of Floridians along the Lower East Coast that depend on the Biscayne Aquifer; provide dry season hydration to the Central Everglades and Everglades National Park; reduce the risk of wildfires; minimize recreational closures; protect remaining carbon stocks across the vast Everglades peatland; and help to mitigate hyper-salinity in Florida Bay.

Read the stakeholder letter to the Army Corps here.

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

The Ripple Effect

Polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee and runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed continues to threaten the Caloosahatchee and our communities. Dark, dirty water and algae blooms regularly plague our estuaries and beaches and threaten our greatest economic engine — tourism. Many of you may be experiencing the ripple effects first hand.

Why It Matters

  • Seagrass is lost: Seagrass is a main source of food for juvenile fish and manatees. Seagrass dies when the water’s salinity swings outside of natural ranges. The salinity changes when the river is subjected to harmfully high or insufficient water flows.
  • Sport fishing industry suffers: Juvenile fish die as a result of poor water quality, less habitat, and lower oxygen levels in the water caused by pollution and nutrient-fueled algae outbreaks. Fewer juvenile fish means fewer game fish that attract recreational fishers to Florida waters.
  • Mass oyster die-offs: Declining water conditions become lethal for oyster beds, the origin of an important economic resource to fuel our seafood industry, the habitat of many marine species, and an important contributor to healthy waterways.
  • Tourism and real estate industry suffers: Large amounts of pollution that result in visible, harmful blooms of toxic blue-green algae result in the closure of local beaches and make our waterways unsafe for swimming and fishing.
Aerial picture of algae in Collier County canal

What's Wrong

When water levels get too high in Lake Okeechobee, water that historically flowed to the Everglades is discharged to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. The excess freshwater and pollution create damaging salinity levels and carry nutrients that fuel algae blooms which can harm or kill aquatic life. The toxins produced by some of the harmful algae blooms can also pose serious risks to public health.

Inversely, in the dry season, the Caloosahatchee is often cut off from any flows from the Lake, causing the river to stagnate; some portions even flow backward at times. The alternating mismanagement of either too much or too little flow combined with pollution is destroying the Caloosahatchee River and estuary, the basis of the region’s tourism-based economy.

The Fix

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 the communities in South Florida.

The following actions are needed to fix this water crisis:

  • 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
  • Allocate sufficient annual funds for the accelerated completion of the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir to improve flows to the Caloosahatchee during dry periods, and implementation of the water quality treatment feature for the Reservoir
  • Revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule to ensure flows to the Caloosahatchee for supporting safe water quality, avoiding discharges when harmful algal blooms are present, and protecting endangered species
  • Store and treat more water within the Caloosahatchee watershed
  • Protect remaining natural wetlands and flow ways in order 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

Public Action Steps

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