Plans to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee – which environmentalists say won’t be large enough to filter toxic algae that can flow into waterways leading to Florida’s coasts – took a step forward on Thursday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that Florida Crystals Corp. has agreed to an early termination of its lease on state-owned land now used to grow sugar cane in favor of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project.
In a letter to the South Florida Water Management District, the company said cultivation would continue “on a field-by-field basis until its operations are incompatible” with development of the reservoir.
“Less than 48 hours after taking office, I charged the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District with expediting critical Everglades restoration projects because we cannot afford to wait,” DeSantis said in a written statement.
“Today’s news is an important step forward in expediting construction of the EAA Reservoir Project and reducing the harmful discharges hurting our coastal estuaries. The EAA Reservoir Project will continue to be a top priority of my administration.”
The water district has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits to construct the reservoir, the governor’s office said.
The $2 billion project is a key component of former Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to filter overflows of water laced with noxious blue-green algae from the lake. The plan originally was to let polluted lake water flow into a 60,000-acre basin and wetlands south of the lake to remove the toxins that have sickened humans and wildlife and damaged the tourist economy.
However, the final plan would restrict the reservoir to 17,000 acres – not enough to really solve the problem, according to an environmentalist the Florida Phoenix interviewed in August.
William J. Mitsch of Florida Gulf Coast University has modeled the plan and estimates it would take some 100,000 acres to sufficiently filter the water.
The toxic algae thrives on nutrients derived from fertilizer, animal wastes, and human sewage and septic tanks.
Update: Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation, issued a written statement praising the development.
“Today’s announcement will enable construction to begin on the essential stormwater treatment area adjacent to the new reservoir so that the entire project can be completed on the expedited schedule set forth by Gov. DeSantis,” he said.
“With no contractual impediments remaining, it is now increasingly urgent for Congress to approve full $200 million per year funding for Everglades restoration projects, including the Everglades Reservoir.”