By Jana Eschbach
WPEC CBS 12
The funding took on a new sense of urgency this year when a toxic algae bloom in Lake Okeechobee poured into Martin and St Lucie Counties this year when the Port Myacca Locks opened up to drain Lake Okeechobee.
At its peak in June, the toxic algae spanned 42 miles along the Okeechobee waterway into the Ocean, closing even public beaches, causing commissioners and the Governor to declare multiple states of emergency. Local chambers estimate a $50 million dollar loss to the region from the toxic waterways.
Why does this have to happen?
“When Lake Okeechobee fills up, the only option is to open the floodgates and have billions of gallions of water dump east and west,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO Everglades Foundation, an advocate for Everglades restoration, and sending water south, as it once was.
“We avoid the wildfires. We avoid the drought. We avoid not having the abundance of fresh water that we need. This Central Everglades Project allows water to flow south ultimately getting to the Florida Keys,” Eikenberg said, “Everglades Restoration is all about water storage. You have to have a significant amount of water on the peninsula instead of wasting the billions of gallons of water we saw this past summer.”
Florida U.S. Congressmen and women helped push through a $2 billion approval to fund the Central Everglades Restoration Project (CEPP).
“It’s going to matter to the public directly because they will rely on it for drinking water, and as this goes forward we are going to help in the Treasure Coast area as well,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, US Congress (D) district 21, “2 billion dollars to finally move forward on the federal obligation to make sure the water flows south in the direction it is supposed to.”
The water bill authorizes $1.95 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project as well as money for several other Florida projects including $113 million for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project in Collier County and $323 million to dredge Port Everglades in Broward County. The projects to redirect as much as 67 billion gallons of water per year, would also improve water quality in Southwest Florida where runoff from Lake Okechobee is discharged into the Caloosahatchee River.
The project includes multiple infrastructure projects designed to help clean drinking water for 8 million people. It means they will construct water storage to filter out toxins south of the Lake, and lifting roadways with bridges to allow more water to flow south.
Also, a new president has to continue funding the infrastructure, promised since 2000.
“He does spend a lot of time in Florida. He understands the beauty of Florida,” Deutch said.
Scientists caution the $2 billion in funding is not a silver bullet, nor will it stop another toxic bloom in 2017.
Even with continued federal funding, the restoration will take 2 decades to complete.
That means we could see it get worse here again before we get relief. Also, $2 billion will get many projects underway, but this entire project will cost upwards of $15 billion to complete.
President-elect Trump has yet to weigh in on if he supports Everglades Restoration infrastructure funding.