Hopes are high that a July 18 hearing in U.S. District Court in Miami will ratify the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection's permit and associated projects to improve water quality in the Everglades. The expected ruling will enable an $880-million program of water treatment and storage facilities by 2025.
On June 13, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved DEP's plan for a suite of projects to achieve the ultra-low water-quality standard of less than 10 parts per billion of phosphorus in water entering the Everglades. EPA was under court order to hold DEP to its standard, so the court must approve the plan.
The South Florida Water Management District, West Palm Beach, will build 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas and nearly 110,000 acre-ft of associated water storage. The district already has built 57,000 acres of constructed wetlands and reduced phosphorus loads by 57% through best management practices in agricultural lands, says Ernie Barnett, its director of Everglades policy. While the court could reject the plan, he says, "I'm not anticipating any legal roadblocks that can't be resolved."
On deck for completion are two projects: the 54,000-acre-ft A-1 Reservoir and a pump station for the 45,000-acre-ft L-8 Reservoir. A-1 was canceled in 2008 after two years and $272 million of work because of a cost overrun and a change of plans. That project now can be finished with construction of a levee for $90 million, says Barnett. Work at L-8, a former rock quarry, will cost $70 million, he says.
Despite this promise of progress, a congressionally mandated June 21 report from the National Research Council states, "Little progress has been made on restoring the hydrology of the historical Everglades ecosystem" because restoration remains focused on the periphery of the central Everglades. The report applauds the Central Everglades Planning Project, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' pilot effort to restore the natural flows into and through the wetland's central and southern areas. The Corps' goal is to deliver a plan for authorization to Congress by the end of 2013.