Federal officials Tuesday potentially derailed a nearly $2 billion plan intended to help the Everglades and curb coastal water pollution. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Review Board in an unexpected move Tuesday refused to sign off on the Central Everglades plan, which would redirect more Lake Okeechobee water south to replenish Florida’s famed “River of Grass.” That postponement threatens to torpedo efforts to convince Congress to split the $2 billion cost with the state to help restore lake water flows to the Everglades — cut off by decades of drainage to make way for South Florida development and farming (Reid). The Everglades Foundation, environmental group, called the delay “a staggering failure of duty and responsibility” that threatens to set back the Central Everglades plan for years. “The blame for this failure — and future damage to the environment and economy — now is squarely on the epaulets of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said. Tuesday’s delay out of Washington D.C. comes less than two weeks after the South Florida Water Management District endorsed the Everglades restoration plan, agreeing to potentially pay half of the nearly $2 billion cost. Florida officials are trying to get the Central Everglades project added to a list of water projects that Congress is considering OKing this year.
Now a federal funding hiccup for the Central Everglades project could translate to even more years of waiting for construction that was already projected to be a decade away. The Central Everglades project would restore Lake Okeechobee water flows to the south, instead of draining lake water out to sea for South Florida flood control and hurting coastal fishing grounds in the process. The Central Everglades plan involves removing portions of levees, filling in canals and increasing pumping to redirect more Lake Okeechobee water flows toward Everglades National Park. That would help Everglades wildlife habitat and boost South Florida drinking water supplies, while also lessening the amount of lake water that gets drained out to sea through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers with damaging water quality consequences along the coast. Draining hundreds of billions of gallons of fresh water from the lake into the normally salty estuaries killed sea grass and oyster beds and scared off fish. The influx of pollutants and sediment from the lake draining also hurt water quality, fueling toxic algae blooms that made some coastal waterways unsafe for swimming. “Ignoring last summer’s environmental and economic destruction, caused by the Corps of Engineers dumping of billions of gallons of polluted water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and estuaries, the Corps is showing callous disregard for the people and businesses affected by their actions,” Eikenberg said. The projected cost of the Central Everglades project was bumped up about $100 million to $1.9 billion. Florida taxpayers have already spent about $2 billion on Everglades restoration and on top of that, the Florida Legislature last year approved an $880 million ongoing plan to clean up Everglades water pollution. The Central Everglades plan has been years in the making and has broad support from environmental groups, South Florida agricultural advocates and coastal communities suffering from lake discharges.
Keep the Everglades safe for more Airboat Rides.