SOUTH FLORIDA -- A $1.8 billion plan to speed up Everglades restoration and bring more water to Everglades National Park and the rest of the southern Everglades took a step forward last week.
On Aug. 15, the board of the South Florida Water Management District gave tentative approval of the draft plan for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The plan will now be released on Aug. 30 for public review, part of the regulatory process that must be followed before it can get an official sign-off and become eligible for funding from Congress.
Under CEPP, as the planning project is known, a new water retention area would be constructed in the Everglades Agricultural Area, south of Lake Okeechobee. That would allow water mangers to direct 65 billion more gallons of water per year south, rather than releasing it to the east and west through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, according to models.
A series of other steps, including backfilling canals, increasing pumping capacity and removing levees, would also direct more water through the central Everglades, where it eventually would be left to move south on its own, following its natural course into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
Heavy rain in Florida this summer has led to large water releases from Lake Okeechobee through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee in recent weeks. Scrutiny has followed as algae blooms and rising bacteria levels, fueled in part by the farm-polluted Okeechobee water, have fouled both rivers, but especially the St. Lucie.
Once the tentative CEPP plan is released on Aug. 30, it still must go through the 45-day comment period, a revision, and then a second comment period, before it can get the official OK.
The process will likely take four to nine months, said Jennifer Miller, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the water management district's federal partner on Everglades restoration.
Funding to implement CEPP would most likely be part of a revised Water Resources Development Act bill. Congress has not renewed WRDA since 2007.