Righting a Wrong
A massive new project will send fresh, clean water to Everglades National Park.
In February, after more than 20 years of debate and delays, the Army Corps of Engineers broke ground on the most expensive — and ambitious — Everglades restoration project to date: the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. The reservoir, which the Miami Herald dubbed “Florida’s largest above-ground pool,” will span some 10,500 acres south of Lake Okeechobee. The goal of the massive undertaking is to help undo decades of environmental degradation. “For years we’ve done projects around the periphery,” said Cara Capp, NPCA’s Everglades restoration senior program manager. “This is the big piece we’ve been missing.”
Ironically, the Corps itself radically changed the hydrology of South Florida when it expanded on dredging work carried out in the early 1900s. The resulting system of levees, canals and dams — intended to drain the region to make way for farms and houses — ultimately starved the Everglades of its lifeblood. The fraction of water that did make it into area rivers or farther to the park was heavily polluted, leading to algal blooms and massive fish and seagrass die-offs in Florida Bay. Once the problem became clear, NPCA and its allies began to rally to reverse the devastation and protect this biodiverse landscape.
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Proponents see this new reservoir, slated for completion within 10 years, as a critical step toward remediation. The retaining pond, with its 37-foot walls, will hold spillover from Lake Okeechobee until it can be filtered by plants as it moves through a series of artificial marshes stretching across 6,500 acres. Once clean, the water will flow south — to the tune of 78 billion gallons a year — replenishing the area’s underlying aquifer while restoring the flow of the River of Grass and improving the health of Florida Bay.
The project’s footprint is only one-sixth the size of what was originally proposed, and much work remains to heal the Everglades. That said, Capp hails the reservoir, which is a priority for both President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as a once-in-a-generation win for the park. “The science is telling us this project will be great for the Everglades,” Capp said. “To send this volume of clean water to the park every year is going to change our droughts,” she said. “It’s going to change unseasonable wildfires. It’s going to change the seagrass die-offs in Florida Bay. Everything will get better.”
A Century of Impact
About the author
Katherine DeGroff Associate and Online Editor
Katherine is the associate editor of National Parks magazine. Before joining NPCA, Katherine monitored easements at land trusts in Virginia and New Mexico, encouraged bear-aware behavior at Grand Teton National Park, and served as a naturalist for a small environmental education organization in the heart of the Colorado Rockies.