Construction of the next major project for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is set to begin in April following the South Florida Water Management District's award of a $175.8-million lump-sum contract to Phillips and Jordan Inc.

The firm will lead construction of the A-2 Stormwater Treatment Area, a 6,500-acre constructed wetland that will naturally treat water discharged from the A-2 reservoir before it flows south into the Everglades. The reservoir and associated structures are part of an estimated $1.8-billion project under the joint state and federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

The stormwater contract includes construction of a 650-cfs temporary pump station, a 150-cfs seepage pump station and a 300-cfs pump station, plus canals, levees, culverts and earthwork. Project completion is set for December 2023, with a $5-million incentive for earlier completion, a district spokesman says. “In preparation for this contract, we began building the Inflow/Outflow Canal under another construction contract,” which is planned to finish in November.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will build the 10,500-acre reservoir with 240,000 acre-ft capacity. A Corps spokesman says the agency expects to award a contract for that work late in 2021 with completion estimated in 2027 or 2028.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has promised to invest $2.5 billion in Everglades restoration and protection of the state’s water resources.

But State Sen. Wilton Simpson (R) began his two-year term as president of the Florida senate, contending that water storage south of Lake Okeechobee has “consumed a disproportionate amount of time and funding over the last several years.”

He calls for redirecting state resources to projects north of Lake Okeechobee to reduce farm runoff contaminating the lake. The federal-state Everglades projects are funded equally by the state and U.S., so cutting state funds would result in reduced federal funding as well.

“Our direction from the governor and the legislature is to move the [stormwater] project forward,” says a district spokesman.