The judge also said that there was evidence of an additional violation because the district and Florida DEP also failed to timely construct a vital water treatment area that would help reduce phosphorous levels in the Everglades. The judge ordered a special master in charge of the massive cleanup to hold hearings in the near future that will establish an effective means of restoring the natural wonders of the Everglades.
"The Everglades are part of all of us who call Florida home," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "The state has got to do its part to protect this natural area for future generations and we hope that today's order will be a big step towards that goal."
After more than fifteen years of battling the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) over a lack of oversight for pollution levels of phosphorous in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and Earthjustice, representing a coalition of eight conservation groups, have ensured that this area will see cleaner levels of phosphorous in the coming years.
Judge Federico Moreno of the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, recognized the importance of preserving the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and the Everglades in today's order by finding DEP and the water district in violation of the consent decree.
"This is a landmark ruling in a landmark case brought to protect the Everglades, which ensures the essential component of judicial oversight," said Dexter Lehtinen, attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians. "Judge Moreno understands judicial oversight is vital to ensuring that the Everglades is protected, and he is willing to exercise it."
Earthjustice is representing a broad coalition of conservation groups, including National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, Audubon Society of the Everglades and the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club and supports the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, who has consistently pushed state and local agencies to cleanup Loxahatchee and the Everglades.
"We're all working towards ensuring that clean water reaches the Loxahatchee Refuge and eventually the Everglades," Guest said. "Florida DEP and the South Florida Water Management District have a responsibility under the law to protect these areas for all Floridians."
High phosphorous levels in a sensitive natural area such as the Loxahatchee Refuge can cause damage to plants and other wildlife that rely upon a balanced environment. Runoff from nearby sugar fields is slowly choking the refuge, which acts as a conduit into large areas of the Everglades, located to the south. Achieving clean water for the refuge and the Everglades will preserve a part of the state that has become synonymous with our country’s finest and most beautiful places.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Loxahatchee Natural Wildlife Refuge covers over 221 square miles -- nearly 150,000 acres -- of Everglades habitat and is a paradise for birdwatcher, home to many different species of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.