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 that are all 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 and 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 freshwater. 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 1960’s, 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 is 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 full implementation 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!

everglades coalition

The Everglades Coalition is an alliance of more than sixty local, state and national conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to full restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes into Lake Okeechobee and to the estuaries, through the River of Grass, out to Florida Bay and the Keys.

The Coalition works in the public arena to inform decision makers on the collective view of the conservation community regarding the greater Everglades ecosystem. The Everglades Coalition also hosts an annual conference which brings together hundreds of stakeholders including agencies, elected officials, NGO’s, scientists, students, and the public to engage in productive dialogue on the challenges and opportunities facing the Everglades. 

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a longstanding member of the Everglades Coalition.

Visit the EVCO website to learn more!

Everglades

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 which historically flowed to the Everglades is discharged to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. The excess freshwater and pollution creates damaging salinity levels and carries 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 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!