We lie at the headwaters of the Everglades and there has been a lot of news reports on how best to fund the decades-long restoration efforts.
To help you to understand Sierra’s position on this issue, read the following letter our leaders sent to President Joe Biden.
It contains a lot of technical details that may take some time to interpret, but the main message is that what Florida is doing falls short.
February 25, 2022
President Joe Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
SUBJ: Funding the True Restoration of America’s Everglades
Dear President Biden:
On behalf of the Sierra Club, with 3.8 million members and supporters, we express our gratitude for your recent investment on America’s Everglades. Boosting the Fiscal Year 2022 budget for the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with $1.1 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and directing those funds equitably toward Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects across the Greater Everglades, was historic. Several of these projects will appreciably speed up the restoration of water quality and seasonal water flows vital to sustain healthy ecosystems, wildlife biodiversity, drinkable water, and safe recreational access to our waters.
We are also immensely grateful that this FY22 Infrastructure allocation will not fund construction of the inferior, ill-conceived Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir phase added to the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). This reservoir will not provide the level of ecological restoration benefits South Florida needs, but rather has become a go-to project for greenwashing by Governor Ron DeSantis and others looking for a quick political, rather than ecological, fix. The urgent climate and biodiversity crises require bold investments in nature-based solutions, not short-term band-aids for political victories.
All CERP projects are not created equal, and we are especially grateful for your Administration’s prioritization of these projects:
● Two CERP projects that must be completed in order to ensure the success of future CERP projects and overall restoration; both will provide clean water flows and ecological benefits to the Everglades Protection Area’s water conservation areas, Everglades National Park, and the southern estuaries:
○ The next phase of the Broward County Water Preserve Area (BCWPA) project, authorized by Congress almost 8 years ago. BCWPA will help increase the spatial extent of wetlands, reduce seepage water losses, and improve quality of water and vegetation in the Everglades water conservation areas.
○ A new pump station (G-356) will help sustain higher beneficial flows of restored clean water in the southern Everglades by controlling seepage.
● Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP), previously delayed many times over and at risk of being permanently waylaid, will help restore flows and hydroperiods of clean water that are vital to the most biodiverse region of the Greater Everglades. Advancing WERP will also move CERP closer to addressing environmental injustices disproportionately affecting the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, whose way of life is interwoven with this imperiled ecosystem.
● Biscayne Bay Southeastern Everglades Restoration (BBSEER) project is extremely important to restore health to Biscayne Bay and the region that is inarguably one of the most vulnerable in Florida to rising seas, intense storms, and saltwater intrusion.
Also noteworthy, and for which we are enormously relieved and encouraged, is the absence of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir phase in your funding package. This reservoir is a far cry from what we truly need in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) to restore ecologically beneficial clean water flows, sequester carbon, regenerate peat soils, recover native vegetation and wildlife, and adapt to a changing climate. This EAA reservoir is yet another hard-infrastructure project that may mitigate some of the results of an unrestored Everglades, but does not represent true Everglades restoration, and is an incredibly poor replacement for what is truly required–the substantial increase of the spatial extent of wetland habitats that treat and convey clean water from Lake Okeechobee.
The EAA reservoir was conceived and rushed to Congress in 2017-2018, during the Rick Scott and Donald Trump administrations, and since 2019 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has carried on greenwashing the project. Despite what DeSantis, and his supporters claim, the EAA reservoir could not be farther from a “crown jewel” or “heart” of Everglades restoration. The fact is that the planning process was flawed in a myriad of ways which led to a proposed project with significant documented risks and uncertainty on its ecological benefits.
Sierra Club has publicly expressed its concerns about the proposed EAA reservoir project since 2017, including in the attached February 24, 2020 letter sent to US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). We continue to have many of these concerns and questions, but have even more at every turn as the project progresses, some of which are:
● Under the former Governor Scott administration, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) failed to provide a public comment opportunity, and meaningful intergovernmental and independent peer-review, of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before it was submitted in March 2018 to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASA). In their draft EIS, which they never released as final, SFWMD failed to evaluate a broader range of potential alternatives that may have provided more ecological benefits and at a lesser long-term cost.
● Per the USACE website, the Corps completed the EAA Section 1308 report (the Validation Report for CEPP EAA) in April 2021. However, neither the 1308 report, nor the Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) team technical analysis reports, have been made publicly available as required by CERP Programmatic Regulations (33 CFR § 385.20). Without these reports, it is impossible for the public to ascertain whether or not the claimed benefits will actually be attainable. A separate EIS was drafted and finalized by the USACE in May 2020, but it only evaluated the feasibility of the tentatively selected plan the SFWMD proposed in its 2018 draft EIS.
● The never-finalized SFWMD draft EIS, incorporated as an appendix in the draft EIS by USACE, ended up as the basis for the Post Authorization Change Report (PACR) submitted to Congress to modify the prior authorization of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, signed by President Trump, utilized this never-finalized draft to conditionally authorize the EAA reservoir project.
● The SFWMD’s chosen project alternative fails to add significant relief from harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges, beyond what the previously authorized CEPP project was already estimated to provide. While any relief to the estuaries is welcomed, SFWMD chose to not evaluate other project alternatives that may have presented higher benefits to the estuaries. As a result, the public was deprived of the benefit to weigh-in on possible alternatives that may have provided more economically feasibility, with less risk and uncertainty in cost and benefits.
● Because Everglades restoration cannot be successful without large swaths of land south of Lake Okeechobee, it is still in the public interest to evaluate the impacts and feasibility of other less land-restricted alternatives, restrictions that SFWMD chose to impose on itself, based on a flawed interpretation of 2017 Florida Senate Bill 10.
○ The state already owns some of the land required, and only needs to halt its repeated leasing of those parcels as they come up for renewal.
○ In addition, in 2014, 75% of the state’s voters passed a constitutional amendment creating the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF), which in Fiscal Year 2022-23 has over $1 Billion to spend on acquiring and restoring conservation land. The LATF will continue to provide funds through 2034.
● A 23-foot deep reservoir, significantly deeper than Lake Okeechobee, filled with nutrient-polluted water, will promote the same or more profound conditions that fuel intense, frequent, and long-duration Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) within Lake Okeechobee.
● An undersized Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) lacking effective treatment potential for additional water flows from Lake Okeechobee will violate the Miccosukee Tribe’s Water Quality Standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for phosphorus, and fail to deliver on assurances made to the Tribe of an 80% phosphorus load reduction. The 6,500-acre STA proposed for the EAA Reservoir has not been certified as adequate water quality treatment for the flows of new water from Lake Okeechobee.
● No one has answered a very important question: What is the estimated added lift in ecological benefits that this multi-billion dollar, 23-ft deep reservoir project is providing in the modified CEPP project over and above what the previously authorized CEPP project was predicted to provide? When considering a multi-billion dollar project, publicly mischaracterizing claimed benefits points to not only a failure to ensure feasibility, but to potential corruption.
America’s Everglades deserve better. To this end, we respectfully request a re-evaluation of the EAA reservoir project that directly and openly addresses the many valid concerns raised, including the flawed, expedited planning process; the insufficient scientific evaluation of alternatives; the lack of meaningful and equitable public engagement; and the mischaracterization of benefits and risks associated with this multi-billion dollar project. As such, the evaluation process failed to meet the intent of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). We need your leadership to ensure federal public tax dollars are beneficially, justly, and equitably spent on bold ecosystem restoration projects that are truly responsive to the seriousness and urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises. The abhorrent alternative is to cater to special corporate interests feeding the status quo of unsustainable development, polluting industries and degenerative industrial agriculture.
Again, our most sincere gratitude for the recent historic investment and your Administration’s careful selection of CERP projects that it will support. We look forward to supporting efforts that help restore confidence in the scientific integrity, transparency, and bold vision we desperately need for America’s Everglades.
National Director, Policy Advocacy and Legal Sierra Club
50 F Street NW, Eighth Floor Washington, DC 20001
Organizing Representative Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign