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A prominent feature of the $1.1 billion in Everglades funding recently announced by the Biden administration will show up in southwestern Broward County.
An above-ground water-storage area and hundreds of acres of marsh will be constructed at the edge of Weston to hold and treat water washing off southern Broward County’s lawns and streets. Currently that water, laden with fertilizers and chemicals, flows through a canal into the Everglades, where it degrades wetlands, ruining habitat for fish, alligators and wading birds.
“It’s going to be a wildlife refuge,” said Steve Davis, chief science officer for the Everglades Foundation. “It’s going to look like wetland. It’s going to attract birds; it’s going to support fish. I think it would be a nice place to go birdwatching.”
The Broward water treatment area, known as the C-11 impoundment, will include an embankment around a water-storage area that will hold between two and four-and-a-half feet of water, as well as marshes to clean the water. Plans call for two recreational bridges.
It’s one of five Everglades restoration projects that will be paid for with money announced Jan. 19 by the Biden administration, in the largest infusion of funds ever into the long-delayed plan to restore the Everglades. Handling the work will be the Army Corps of Engineers, the state of Florida’s federal partner in the restoration program.
Half lost to farms and cities, the Everglades has suffered from the disruption of the natural flow of water by canals, levees and roads. Wetlands have dried out and lost structure, eliminating habitat for fish, frogs, crustaceans and alligators. Although tourists still admire the Everglades’ great egrets, tricolored herons, roseate spoonbills and purple gallinules, these birds appear in nothing like the abundance reported by visitors a century ago.
The restoration plan, authorized in 2000, is state-federal project that focuses on restoring the flow of clean water through the Everglades. Although the focus is on the Everglades’ sawgrass-dominated core, projects attempt to improve habitat along the coasts and on the fringes of the Everglades.
Here are the projects funded by the Biden administration’s new Everglades spending plan:
Central Everglades: A key project would double the capacity of a pump station on Tamiami Trail to bring more water to Shark River Slough, the main path of water through Everglades National Park.
With the recent raising of parts of Tamiami Trail, which had blocked the flow of water since its completion in 1928, it’s become possible to send more water into the park, where wetlands have dried out and wildlife populations declined.
Much of this water is not yet available, since it depends on the completion of other projects, such as a reservoir in western Palm Beach County. But more water should be available by 2023, under the plan to direct more water from Lake Okeechobee south into the Everglades, and the pump station’s added capacity could also come into play in a hurricane or prolonged heavy rain. The pump station will also capture water currently leaking out of the park.
“It helps us keep water in the park and send more water under the bridges,” Davis said. “Doubling the capacity of that structure will help us get more water into Everglades National Park. The more you have water there, the more you have habitat for fish and wading birds.”
Indian River Lagoon: The narrow waterbody that runs 156 miles from northern Palm Beach County to Volusia County has suffered severe pollution from rainwater washing off farms and lawns, as well as water discharged from Lake Okeechobee. One result has been last year’s historic die-off of manatees from starvation from the loss of seagrass.
The federal money will build a reservoir and wetlands to clean water before it enters the lagoon through a canal in Fort Pierce.
“It will help part of the lagoon, an area called Taylor Creek that drains a lot of agricultural pollution into the lagoon,” said Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades. “On Taylor Creek, at certain times of day, you see black water coming out into the aqua waters of the Indian River Lagoon. It’s dirty water, it’s bad for the ecosystem, and that project will address it.”
“Of course, it won’t solve the bigger problem for the lagoon, the Lake Okeechobee discharges at the southern end,” she said. “But it will help with part of it.”
The Biden administration funds will also pay for planning, but not construction, for two projects on the edge of the Everglades. The intention is to get the plans completed in detail so they can be ready for construction in future rounds of funding.
Western Everglades: This area encompasses Big Cypress National Preserve and lands of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes.
Although the natural flow of water hasn’t been degraded here as much as in the central Everglades, the project would attempt to improve water quality and restore a more natural distribution of water through a wildlife-rich area that borders Everglades National Park.
Biscayne Bay: The plan would restore more natural flows of fresh water to Biscayne Bay and its fringes, where canals and the drainage of land has disrupted natural levels of saltwater, increased pollution and harmed fish and coral reefs.
“We’ve seen fish kills and massive loss of seagrass and degradation of water quality in recent decades,” Samples said. “So this is a really important project to try to get the plumbing back to some semblance of what was functional.”
Much of the Republican reaction to the Biden administration’s Everglades funding announcement focused on what was not on the list: A huge reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to store and treat water. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Stuart, called the omission “a massive screwup.”
The reservoir, which will be located in the the farming region called the Everglades Agricultural Area, would sharply reduce harmful discharges of polluted water to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and it would establish a major source of desperately needed fresh water for the Everglades. Many environmentalists consider it too small to adequately remove pollution before sending the water south into the Everglades, but a reservoir in some form is generally considered an essential part of the plan.
The state of Florida’s part of the project is well underway, with the construction of wetlands to cleanse water before it enters the Everglades.
The Army Corps said in a written statement that the reservoir’s price tag of more than $2 billion exceeded the amount of money available and that work on parts of the project has already been taking place. Construction on the reservoir’s embankment is expected to begin this year.
The statement said the Army Corps “remains committed” to constructing the reservoir.
David Fleshler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 954-356-4535.