THE EVERGLADES — State and federal officials gathered at the S-333 water control structure on the Tamiami Trail on Oct. 21 to celebrate the start of work on the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which will increase the capacity to move water from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park (ENP).
Gov. Ron DeSantis said the CEPP will provide the needed pathway to send more water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
“Projects like this will mean millions of Floridians will see a real difference in water quality in just a few years.”
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science of the U.S. Department of the Interior Dr. Timothy Petty said the federal agencies are acting “as one, making sure we are all in lockstep moving forward.”
“Everyone is working together now,” said Noah Valenstein, secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. He said state and federal funding allocations for CEPP projects are making a difference.
“It’s a great day for the Everglades,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member Ron Bergeron. He said the SFWMD has been able to start construction on the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir stormwater treatment area. He said “the newly constructed gates will give us the ability to double the amount of water we can send south.
“Saving the Everglades is all about sending water south,” Bergeron said. He said CEPP will remove the bottleneck that causes water to back up in the central Everglades. High water levels in the water conservation areas north of the Tamiami Trail have been detrimental to wildlife.
Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park, said moving water under the Tamiami Trail is key to “making the Everglades magic happen.” He said the Everglades belongs to the people.
Ramos said it is important to get more freshwater to Florida Bay, where high salinity levels have damaged the sea grasses. CEPP will help restore the freshwater flow from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, he said.
“We must now focus our attention to resolving the seepage issues we have on the east boundary of the park,” he added. “Right now we are losing as much water as we are putting into the park.”
“Organizations are made up of people and leadership comes from individuals,” said Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. “So many individuals are committed and make a tremendous amount of difference.
“We have more to do,” he added.
“At the end of the day, the work doesn’t get done without the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. She said it was a bipartisan effort to ensure funding for CEPP, adding that Everglades projects have been unifying force in a time when the country is “not so unified.”
The CEPP groundbreaking marks a significant milestone in a journey started 20 years ago, she continued. Wasserman-Schultz said she will continue to fight for federal appropriations, to make sure the federal government allocates funds for the remaining CEPP projects.
“This ground breaking ceremony for the Central Everglades Planning Project signifies the hard work and interagency collaboration that was necessary to award this first contract,” said Ryan Fisher, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “Ecosystem restoration is one of the top missions of the Civil Works program, and improving the distribution and flow of water to southern Florida is a priority for our office and this administration, with the assistance of the Water Subcabinet.”
“Today’s announcement is an important step towards conserving and protecting the Everglades, helping to move water through the entire system and bringing needed water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman Mary Neumayr. “Federal agencies are coordinating like never before to benefit communities across the country, including right here in south Florida.”
The Florida Everglades are a national treasure, and we are excited to witness the collaborative progress that is being achieved in South Florida," said U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. "EPA will continue to work with the Water Subcabinet to support our local, state, tribal, and federal partners in restoring this amazing ecosystem while enjoying the many economic, recreational, cultural and environmental benefits it supports."
"Healthy coastal and marine ecosystems directly contribute to the strength of America's blue economy, so restoration projects like these are key to a thriving local community and overall nation," said Nicole LeBoeuf, Acting Director of NOAA's National Ocean Service. "NOAA's partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Everglades restoration results in better management of water flow essential to protecting downstream resources such as coral reefs and seagrass beds."
The Corps awarded the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) South Contract 1 Sept. 25 for $40,502,895 to Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. from Omaha, Nebraska. The contract calls for the construction of culverts and a gap in the L-67A levee and backfilling an agricultural ditch just north of Tamiami Trail. Work on this project is expected to be complete by end of 2024.
The contract is the outcome of years of interagency planning and coordination with partners at the South Florida Water Management District, stakeholders, and members of the public who have been collaborating to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water in south Florida.
CEPP includes storage and treatment; increased conveyance in the Miami Canal and the New River Canal to move more water south from Lake Okeechobee; and, seepage management.