Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection signed off on a plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that is meant to reduce harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The plan, which includes a 10,500-acre reservoir that is about 23 feet deep, and a 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area, still faces approval by the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress.
But the Monday go-ahead from the DEP is one more step forward for a plan that has been on the fast track since lawmakers approved its legislation in 2017.
“Throughout the public process of developing this optimized project, and now as it goes through the external peer and interagency technical reviews, the district has valued the input received from stakeholders and interested parties,” a statement from the South Florida Water Management District said. “The District is confident that the plan delivered to the Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works Office at the end of this month will significantly reduce the volume of damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries and provide additional water storage, treatment and conveyance south to the Everglades, while achieving state water quality standards.”
The process has faced opposition from some environmentalists who wanted the reservoir to have a bigger footprint with a shallower depth.
Audubon Florida said in a statement Monday that DEP’s approval clearly states that the project “will be operated to ensure water quality standards are met and lays out options for additional water treatment measures if needed.”
“This Secretarial Order demonstrates Florida’s commitment to ensuring that the EAA Reservoir’s benefits in storing and moving water south will not come at the expense of water quality protections,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director. “Today marks a turning point for this important project.”
The Everglades Foundation also supports the DEP’s approval.
“After decades of persistent droughts in the Everglades, sea grass die-offs in Florida Bay, and algae-causing pollution of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, we are closer today to a solution than ever before,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg in a statement. “We thank Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks for their leadership and for fulfilling the expedited schedule of last year’s Senate Bill 10.”