Welcome back to the winter White House, Mr. President.
We are grateful you call Florida your second home.
But we are in trouble. Too much polluted water is dumped from Lake Okeechobee onto the communities along the east and west coasts. This has been going on for decades, but the effects are becoming critical.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 242 days last year because of toxic algae caused by the Lake O discharges. Beaches were closed. Fishing was restricted. Children were made sick. People living close to the water had to leave their homes and tourists canceled their vacations.
Countless billions of dollars are being lost in impaired real estate values, tourism and recreational-related jobs.
The algae even reached the Lake Worth Lagoon – a stone’s throw from where you are reading this.
While the communities along the east and west coasts are getting too much water, the Florida Keys are not receiving enough. Some of the finest sport fishing on the continent has been put at risk because Florida Bay now receives just one-third of the fresh water it once did.
Our problem is twofold: too much water going east and west; not enough water going south into the Everglades and Florida Bay.
For nearly two decades now, there has been broad political and scientific consensus on how to fix this. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is designed to fix the antiquated flood control system of South Florida so that water flows where it needs to go.
A major storage reservoir south of Lake O was listed as a priority in CERP — a 60,000-acre artificial lake that will store more than 120 billion gallons of Lake O water so it can be cleansed and sent south.
Under CERP, the federal government shares the cost with Florida’s taxpayers – and in the meantime, Florida’s voters have identified a specific stream of money to pay our state’s share.
For 17 years now, however, politicians and bureaucrats have pointed fingers and dragged heels when it comes to the reservoir — and that’s where you come in.
It will take bold and decisive leadership — a builder — to kick-start the reservoir and save the place we all know and love.
Mr. President, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir is now pending in the Legislature, but your leadership could be the single biggest factor in its passage: it will create thousands of good-paying construction jobs and its completion will save countless billions of dollars that are now being lost.
In the 17 years that this reservoir has been delayed, the Chinese have built entire cities and the world’s biggest dam. The Turks have completed the Marmaray Tunnel — 47 miles of underwater railway.
Surely, we Americans can build a reservoir, especially with so much at stake.
Our entire Florida congressional delegation has urged that Everglades restoration be included in your forthcoming budget and infrastructure plan.
No infrastructure project is more critical to America’s Everglades than the southern EAA reservoir.
ERIK EIKENBERG, TALLAHASSEE
Editor’s note: Eric Eikenberg is chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation.