The Miccosukee Tribe’s opposition to the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir could delay federal permitting of the massive water structure, which will cover more than 10,000 acres and be surrounded by a dike that rises 37 feet into the air. Even if nothing goes wrong, and the reservoir operates as planned, it will increase water flow to tribal lands south of the project, which are already flooded much of the year, according to tribal representatives.
And should something go wrong … longtime residents remember the millions of dollars’ worth of damage left by a breach in the dam surrounding the 6,700-acre FPL reservoir in 1979 in Martin County.
The tribe’s objections to the EAA Reservoir plan, voiced at the April meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, may have come as a surprise to the new board members, some of whom who are still struggling to learn the basics of the watershed issues. But the news came as no surprise to new SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. Mr. Bartlett, who previously worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, was copied on a Jan. 8, 2018, letter in which Miccosukee Tribe Chairman Billy Cypress documented these same concerns.
In the letter, Mr. Cypress urged the SFWMD to first address the need to increase flow under the Tamiami Trail before going ahead with projects that will stack up more water north of the roadway. A project of major concern to the tribe is the EAA reservoir, which was approved in 2017 by Florida Senate Bill 10.
“The tribe objects to the requirement that the water storage must be located in the EAA,” Mr. Cypress wrote. “Water storage north of Lake Okeechobee makes much more sense. The requirement for southern storage was a blatant attempt to force the purchase of the sugar industry land, something pushed by environmentalists. Naturally, the farmers objected and the end result was language prohibiting the use of eminent domain being added to the bill.”
The Miccosukee Tribe has a Federal Reservation and leased lands within the northern portion of Water Conservation Area 3A (WCA 3A), which is south of the EAA. Due to the proximity of the recommended plan to these lands, the tribe has expressed concerns over the conversion of the Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) to a deep water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
In the 2018 letter, the Miccosukee Tribe states that Flow Equalization Basins provide critical water quality benefits that a deep reservoir cannot provide.
The Miccosukee Tribe also expressed concern that discharges from the STA will not meet the Tribal Water Quality Standards of 10 parts per billion total phosphorus or less. The tribe supports the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the restoration of the Everglades; however, the tribe believes that Everglades restoration should require “more clean water,” states the letter.
The Miccosukee Tribe asserts that the lack of water flow under the Tamiami Trail has caused “discriminatory flooding of tribal lands” and that the planned EAA reservoir will cause more flooding of polluted water within their reservation and leased lands. The Miccosukee Tribe recommends that the decompartmentalization of the Everglades through construction of Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), the opening of the S-12 gates (water control structures that control flow under the trail), and the maintenance of culverts on the L-67 and L-29 levees take priority over construction of the reservoir.
Mr. Cypress explained that the tribal lands are already often frequently flooded.
“Currently, the Corps of Engineers and SFWMD can put water about six times faster into the WCA-3A than they can release it into Everglades National Park (ENP). Each year the discriminatory flooding of tribal lands occurs. Water year 2017 was particularly damaging to tribal tree islands and wildlife in the Everglades. Starting in June 2017 and lasting until January 2018, six months of persistent flooding existed on tribal lands. This is totally unacceptable. The state and federal agencies are killing the tribe’s homelands, our beloved Everglades. This is not ‘shared adversity!’ The ultimate insult to the tribe happened during the days leading up to Hurricane Irma making landfall. Anticipating further flooding, the tribe asked for flood control pumps and we were denied. The tribe was told to seek flood relief from FEMA after the flooding of their homes had occurred. The very agencies who denied flood pumps are the ones who pumped flood waters into tribal lands, causing widespread damage,” he wrote. “No other entity is required to endure six months of discriminatory flooding.” The letter sent to then-SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks was signed by Seminole Tribe Chairman Billy Cypress, and was also copied to the Tribe’s Business Council, Trey Glenn of the Environmental Protection Agency, Florida Sen. Joe Negron, the Florida Legislature, Col. Jason Kirk of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Shannon Estenoz of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos.