Everglades advocates meeting last weekend heartily endorsed Florida Senate President Joe Negron’s push to acquire about 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee to help send fresh water south toward Florida Bay.
“We’re hearing over and over again from the experts that we need water storage everywhere, and the Everglades Coalition strongly supports that,” said Cara Capp, co-chairwoman of the Everglades Coalition and Everglades program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“But the fact is that the most needed [storage area] is south of Lake Okeechobee and that’s the one project that’s not moving yet,” Capp said.
The Everglades Coalition, meeting last Thursday through Sunday in Fort Myers, issued a “roadmap” to projects needed to preserve Florida Bay by sending fresh water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and keeping it away from estuaries on the state’s east and west coasts now suffering from a surge of water pumped from near-capacity Lake Okeechobee.
“There is a leaning by a lot of smart people to have water storage both north and south of Lake Okeechobee,” said Monroe County Mayor George Neugent, who spoke at the Everglades Coalition conference.
“But the problem is the smart people aren't sitting around a table to discuss a solution and acting on it,” Neugent said. “Rather, they’re fighting because of opposition” over acquiring farmland south of Lake Okeechobee.
As proposed, a network of water-storage areas would hold fresh water now dumped into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to prevent flooding. That water would be treated to remove pollutants and then be sent south during dry periods.
Florida Bay has seen widespread seagrass destruction attributed to the lack of enough fresh water.
Both Neugent and Capp noted that South Florida Water Management District staff, charged as the state’s lead agency on Everglades restoration, largely skipped the coalition meeting, which they have previously attended. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency on Everglades issues, sent several top commanders to the participate in the coalition meeting.
“The Water Management District was conspicuous by its absence,” Neugent said. “They had no representatives there to discuss the issues.... And this something that affects the economy of all of South Florida.”
The Everglades Coalition conference drew it largest crowd ever, Capp said, mostly due to interest from residents and sportfishers affected by damage to coastal estuaries.
“We heard from people who live with the affected resources,” she said. “These people had no particular affiliation but want to learn more about that they can do.”
Among other stands taken by coalition supporters were a call to “prioritize planning and appropriations to complete 2.6 miles of bridging along the Tamiami Trail by 2019.” Adding new bridges to U.S. 41 will eliminate an unintended dam that blocks natural water flow to the southern Everglades and Florida Bay.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206