Gov. Ron DeSantis has reached an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers on continuing construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir.
“The agreement today brings us one step closer to beginning construction at the second component of the EAA Reservoir: the 10,500-acre above-ground water storage reservoir built by the Army Corps of Engineers,” DeSantis said at a Thursday news conference — on Earth Day — announcing the deal.
“We thank the Corps for the partnership. We urge them to execute the agreement as quickly as possible so that work can begin as soon as possible. We think that this project is absolutely essential.”
Construction on the project is set to begin later in 2021, according to the Governor.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, praised the deal in a separate statement.
“The construction of the EAA reservoir is the single most important Everglades restoration project that will help end toxic discharges permanently,” Mast said.
“Thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ leadership, the state began construction on their portion of the project a year ahead of schedule, but the federal government has bogged the project down with unnecessary bureaucracy. The signing of this agreement will hopefully bring an end to this obstruction and should be heralded as a major accomplishment towards cleaning up Florida’s waterways.”
DeSantis has made a priority of getting the reservoir built south of Lake Okeechobee.
“A lot of people throughout Florida are happy that we’re finally tackling this in a really comprehensive way,” the Governor told reporters Thursday. “It’s not like you just flip a switch. You’ve got to be on this. And so we’ve managed to stay the course.”
“Before the Governor even took office, he set out a bold vision for Florida and our environment,” Goss said.
“On his second day in office, he wasted no time by signing an executive order that called for record funding for Everglades restoration, reducing harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges to the estuaries, and cleaning up our waterways. Two years later, he’s kept his promise to Floridians and our environment.”
Goss explained that the reservoir should reduce the release of water containing blue-green algae into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers to the east and west of the lake.
“Instead of sending excess Lake Okeechobee water to our estuaries, the reservoir and wetlands will work together to divert that excess water south to the Everglades and ultimately to Florida Bay, where it’s needed the most,” Goss said. “It’s really a game-changer for ecosystem restoration and protecting our estuary communities and our estuary economies.”
Those reservoirs are primarily designed to collect water that can serve as a resource for nearby communities. But storing local runoff and Lake O discharges can also assist in slowing the spread of blue-green algae.
Mast has made the matter a signature issue during his time in Congress, and has routinely criticized the Army Corps both over its water release schedule and bureaucratic delays with construction of the reservoir.
The matter also became a point of friction this year between Mast and Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, who before Session said there needed to be greater state investment in water projects north of Lake Okeechobee. The Senate this month gave its unanimous approval to the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project on the north side of the lake.
But this deal should mean an acceleration in construction for the southern reservoir.
“I made a promise on the floor of the United States House of Representatives shortly after I was sworn into Congress that fixing our water quality would be my top priority, and passing legislation to authorize the EAA reservoir was a critical step toward doing that,” Mast said.
DeSantis also told reporters that environmental projects would remain a focus as legislators work to finalize the 2021-22 budget.
“They’re going through all of this right now,” DeSantis said. “I mean, this is going to come to a head in the next week-and-a-half. But I think people are going to be really, really satisfied with what we’re doing in terms of the budget for protecting Florida’s water resources and what we’re doing for our infrastructure related to water.”
DeSantis ended Thursday’s event by signing the final agreement to move forward on the new phase of construction. Pedro Ramos of the National Park Service, who serves as superintendent for Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park, praised the deal and pressed to move forward with the project on schedule.
“This is a great gift for the Everglades on this Earth Day and a very, very good reason to celebrate, but also to continue to push hard and push toward completion,” Ramos said. “Let’s get this done.”