“I’m pleased to report that South Florida Water Management received the final federal permit to begin on site work for the EAA Reservoir Project. I look forward to construction starting as soon as possible. The project is not only essential for Everglades restoration, it will also create hundreds of jobs,” Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted on April 17.
The governor’s announcement referenced the federal permits required for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir and stormwater treatment area.
The reservoir is a project component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan – Central Everglades Planning Project. The 10,000-acre reservoir will be diked by a berm to hold an estimated 240,000 acre-feet of water. A stormwater treatment area (STA), which will cover 6,500 acres, will be built by the state. The STA will clean the water from the reservoir before it is released to flow south.
The state already owned the land for the reservoir and STA project. The 2001 purchase agreement between Talisman Sugar Co., the U.S. Department of the Interior and The Nature Conservancy was funded by a cooperative agreement between the Interior, TNC and the SFWMD. Talisman committed to selling its entire holdings in the EAA, totaling approximately 53,500 acres.
A second agreement involved the SFWMD, Interior, TNC, Talisman and sugar interests, including United States Sugar Corporation, Florida Crystals and the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperativ). Through this agreement, the SFWMD acquired approximately 21,000 acres directly from Talisman and approximately 29,000 acres from the sugar interests in exchange for Talisman conveying to the sugar interests the balance of the Talisman land. The sugar interests reserved use of the Talisman and sugar interests’ lands for sugarcane farming prior to district project implementation. The Interior Department contributed funding for approximately $108 million, and SFWMD contributed approximately $38.5 million.
While waiting for construction to start, most of the property had been leased to Florida Crystals. The sugar company voluntarily agreed to early termination of the lease when the state was ready to start the project.
The South Florida Water Management District will construct the STA and the STA intake canal. That work started this week.
The EAA reservoir will follow the corps timeline. The corps plans to begin building the reservoir after three years of design. That would mean starting construction in 2023 and finishing around 2028.
The federal approvals were completed on an expedited timeline. Normally, federal permitting on a project of this size takes more than three years. The corps pushed the permits through in about half that time.
CERP, including the EAA reservoir, enjoys widespread support from the agriculture industry as well as environmentalists.