A 15-billion-gallon water-treatment project designed to deliver clean water to the Everglades won approval from the state Wednesday.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection granted a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) that allows the agency, which is responsible for Everglades restoration, to build the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south of Lake Okeechobee.
According to DEP, the project will act as a reservoir able to hold stormwater instead of releasing it to tide. Florida experienced one of the wettest years ever this year, causing a multitude of problems for the coastal St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries as well as flooding the water conservation areas near Everglades National Park, which drowned wildlife.
The 53-foot-deep reservoir, located in Palm Beach County, will offer water managers a place to hold 45,000 acre-feet of water -- 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools -- before treating it and sending it south to the Everglades.
The L-8 structure is part of Gov. Rick Scotts settlement with the Obama administration that became the Everglades Restoration Strategies plan passed by the Florida Legislature in March. Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, sponsored the landmark bill. Caldwell called the bill "the last act" to finish restoring the Everglades and successfully shepherded the legislation to unanimous approval in the House. The $880 million plan -- funded by a legislative state appropriation, a tax on SFWMD residents and a tax on Everglades Agricultural Area farmers is an extension and update of the initial 1994 Everglades Forever Act.
Announcing the step forward in restoration, DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said, "The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to move forward with Everglades restoration projects with the support of Gov. Scott. This project will allow for additional water storage and cleaner water moving south, which will ensure the proper nourishment of the River of Grass."
Construction of the L-8s features are set to begin this month and to be completed in April 2015. The water agencys new top executive, Blake Guillory, called construction of the L-8 a milestone in improving water to the Everglades.
The construction permit broke through a stagnant Everglades restoration process mired in political and legal wrangling for years.
The district is committed to delivering this project on schedule in order to realize as soon as possible the important environmental benefits it will provide, Guillory assured.
The Restoration Strategies plan will expand the capacity of stormwater treatment areas (STAs), which are man-made filter marshes that remove phosphorus from the water, adding 6,500 acres of treatment to the current 57,000 acres.
It will also increase the water storage capabilities south of Lake Okeechobee by 110,000 acre-feet. As part of the storage features, Scotts plan will breathe new life into a stalled reservoir that was under construction, then put on the shelf by former Gov. Charlie Crist, wasting roughly $300 million in bills already paid and in penalties for breaking the construction contract.
Construction of the entire Restoration Strategies plan is estimated to run to 2024.
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