TALLAHASSEE — On April 30, Governor Ron DeSantis, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that site work has begun for the EAA Reservoir Stormwater Treatment Area after recently receiving the required federal permit. SFWMD is now working on the project site for the 6,500-acre treatment wetland component.
The EAA Reservoir Project project will provide ecological benefits and sends more clean water south to the Everglades.
“Today marks a critical milestone for Everglades restoration and achieving our state’s long-term environmental goals,” said Governor DeSantis. “When I took office, I made expediting the EAA Reservoir Project a top priority. Beginning construction means we are a big step closer to moving more clean water south to the Everglades and lessening harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”
The EAA Reservoir Project will benefit both Florida’s environment and economy. In advance of the issuance of this permit, the South Florida Water Management District executed a $1.3 million contract for this first phase of construction on the STA component of the EAA Reservoir Project so that work could begin as soon as possible. The entire project is expected to cost more than $1.8 billions.
After the initial site preparation, the South Florida Water Management District will begin construction of canals and berms for the Stormwater Treatment Area in the coming months.
“We did it. I’m proud to report that work has begun on the EAA Reservoir Project. Its benefits to our Estuaries and the Everglades are finally within sight,” said Chauncey Goss, Chairman of the SFWMD. “Thanks to the leadership of Governor DeSantis, support from the Florida Legislature, and the dedication of the SFWMD Governing Board, we are starting this critical project 12 months early. I can tell you that we are full steam ahead to complete this project for the benefit of both our environment and our economy.”
“I applaud the leadership of Governor DeSantis in expediting and advancing vital Everglades restoration projects like the EAA Reservoir Project,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “DEP looks forward to working with the water management district to complete this important project that will store and treat water, moving water south into the Everglades and protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”
“This is a big deal,” said Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “This is another step that allows us to continue the momentum we’ve experienced over the past few years in restoring the ecosystem in south Florida. Much still remains to be done, but we are happy with the progress we continue to make on this critical project.”
“The long standing partnership between the farming community, the state of Florida, and the Federal government has helped pave the way for the design and construction of the EAA. The farming community continues to show its leadership and willingness to play a major role in Everglades Restoration and the EAA Reservoir is another example of their commitment in this effort,” said Gary Ritter of Florida Farm Bureau.
“The EAA Storage Reservoir and STA Project remains the single most important Everglades restoration initiative awaiting construction. With this permit, the STA piece of the project will increase our capacity to both clean water and allow it to flow south into a parched Everglades National Park and Florida Bay,” said Audubon Florida’s Executive Director Julie Wraithmell. “It has been incredibly dry, and the timing of this permit approval is perfect. Moving water south ensures we are replenishing our aquifers. We need that freshwater for the sake of the bay, the park, and for South Florida families.”
“We are thrilled to see the progress being made on advancing the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir project,” said Rob Moher, President and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “The fact that the Stormwater Treatment Area is beginning construction underscores the commitment by the SFWMD governing board and state leadership to expedite this key Everglades restoration project. The EAA Reservoir is a long-awaited piece of the restoration puzzle that will reduce harmful high-flow discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries by storing and treating water to send south to the Everglades, benefiting our environment and our communities that suffer when damaging discharges occur. The STA component is absolutely essential for fully realizing the project’s ecosystem benefits, and we applaud this swift action by the SFWMD.”
The EAA Reservoir Project is a joint Everglades restoration project between the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. SFWMD is building the water-cleansing Stormwater Treatment Area, which is expected to be complete in 2023. The U.S. Army Corps will build the 10,000-acre storage reservoir, which is expected to be complete in 2028 (with three years for engineering and design and five years of construction).
Sugar farmers helped expedite project
Work on the EAA reservoir project actually began in 2018.
In November 2018, the SFWMD board voted to extend a lease on about 16,000 acres of farmland in the EAA for 8 years, with a provision that the lease could be terminated after 20 months with four months notice. At the time former governing board chair Federico Fernandez said the lease change would accelerate EAA reservoir construction because it allowed SFWMD to immediately take back 560 acres to use as a staging area to stockpile rocks and materials, and to mine for additional material. Provisions within the lease extension also allowed SFWMD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct geological testing throughout the property, even on active sugar cane fields.
Worked started the next week, with fields of sugar cane bulldozed so construction materials could be mined and stockpiled on the site. Geotechnical work also began on the project site at that time.
In April 2019, Florida Crystals sent a letter to the SFWMD governing board offering to release land from the lease early if the EAA reservoir project was expedited. Based on Florida Crystals’ commitment to transition land to the district for the EAA Reservoir Project, the district provided Florida Crystals dates it would need access to the project site to implement the expedited construction schedule for the Stormwater Treatment Area.
As promised, the leases have been voluntarily terminated as needed for the project work.