The new Everglades reservoir will help with water for years to come

March 17 — The Everglades Agricultural Area located south of Lake Okeechobee saw a recent groundbreaking for an above-ground reservoir — it’s been 22 years in the making. 

Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the organization’s efforts to keep the Everglades healthy. 

Eikenberg said, “This is the crown jewel of Everglades restoration in the sense that once this reservoir is built, it will be the reconnection between Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay, a source of fresh water throughout the course of the year. This project is long overdue.” 

The reservoir will divert runoff and excess water from the lake to the south. 

Eikenberg explained, “We average about 66 inches of rainfall per year. When the lake fills up, the option today is to open the gates, east, west. You’re wasting billions of gallons of fresh water. With Everglades restoration we’re going to redirect that flow of water. By having water on the southern part of our peninsula, it permeates down into the limestone, connects into the Biscayne Aquifer and it’s the drinking water for a third of the state population, including our friends and neighbors in the Florida Keys.” 

The new reservoir is one of 68 projects outlined in the restoration plan for the Florida Everglades. 

Funding for this has been critical. It’s been a priority of Governor Ron DeSantis for the last few years now, to the tune of millions of dollars. 

When the reservoir is complete, two thirds of the water will flow south for the environment and a third of the water will stay in the Everglades Agricultural Area. 

Eikenberg said, “They’re telling us it’s about the size of Manhattan so it’s a very massive piece of acreage.” 

It will be 10,500 acres used for a 35-foot high reservoir. It will hold about 25 feet of water. 

Eikenberg said, “It’s not just going to be a stagnant reservoir. It will fill up. They will then release that water into the filtration marshes, what they call storm water treatment areas. All that aquatic vegetation, the plant life will absorb the phosphorus nitrogen so that you can deliver clean water south. I was out there just a few weeks ago. It’s an impressive construction site.” 

Adjacent to the reservoir is an additional 6,500 acre kidney filtration for the Everglades that will help make sure water quality standards are met. 

President Joe Biden added $415 million to his proposed 2023-24 federal budget for Everglades restoration through the Army Corps of Engineers. The majority of those dollars will go toward this project. 

It’s a bipartisan effort. 

Eikenberg said, “Because folks want to see this project, when we talk about restoring the Everglades, they want to see it completed and the good news is we’re on track to do that by the end of the decade.” 

The fully implemented plan looks to balance all issues including the water supply and the threatened and endangered species. 

The Florida Wildlife Corridor will provide the Florida panther a habitat to traverse across the state. 

Eikenberg said, “The intricate amount of species that reside within the Everglades ecosystem themselves when you have a restoration plan become reality, it balances all those needs and it certainly protects the wildlife that’s out here.” 

By redirecting the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the south will not exacerbate the red tide issue. 

Eikenberg said, “Red tide has been popping up for many, many decades, but having the blue/green algae from the lake move south, have it filtered, make sure that all that polluted water is filtered, this reservoir will be a great benefit to the reduction, a heavy reduction in those coastal discharges.”  

Water is critical for the economy. 

Eikenberg said, “When your economy is built and driven by tourism, these manmade disasters that we’ve experienced are just highlighting the need to operate with a greater sense of urgency. Whether it’s real estate, our hotels, our restaurants, our fishing, boating, all those aspects of a water-based economy certainly need to be protected.” 

The Everglades Foundation works closely with the various tourism officials, local governments and Chambers of Commerce. 

The reservoir project is scheduled to be completed by 2030.

Eikenberg said, “This is a $3.5 billion project. That’s why this organization and others are in Washington annually to insure that Congress is appropriating the right amount of money to build this project. We don’t want delays. We’re going to work tirelessly to make sure that happens.” 

While unforeseen issues can always crop up, President Biden signed legislation last year that calls for this project to be expedited. 

Eikenberg said, “Its signals that it’s a national priority to get this reservoir built. This will be the largest project undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers domestically. Florida puts up half the money.” 

That doesn’t always happen with other states. 

Eikenberg said, “We’re going to be dogged on this topic and make sure that it sticks to a schedule.” 

Donations to the Everglades Foundation will help continue the work to keep the water healthy. 

Eikenberg pointed out, “The Everglades Foundation doesn’t receive a dime of all these federal dollars and state dollars that we’re talking about. We’re fueled by private individuals and foundations and others who step up to support this mission. We’re grateful for all that come forward to join this journey. We’re on a journey here to protect a natural resource that is no other place in the world. This is America’s Everglades. We have great national pride in what’s right here in our own backyard. The fishing capital of the world, Florida Bay, desperately needs this protection. I’m optimistic we’re going to do it. This generation is going to achieve restoration. We’re going to pass it on to the kids of Monroe County and others to carry that torch for generations to come.” 

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