A court-appointed Special Master today recommended that the South Florida Water Management District be allowed to abandon a $700 million reservoir project in the southern Everglades Agricultural Area.
The reservoir was once an important part of Everglades restoration, but it was mothballed—and rightly so—when Florida negotiated a deal to buy large swaths of Everglades land from U.S. Sugar Company. Earthjustice represented conservation groups in opposing the reservoir project.
“When the reservoir was planned, there was little possibility that Florida could get more Everglades land into public ownership,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “The reservoir had become essentially a giant water supply project for agriculture. Instead, in buying the U.S. Sugar land, Florida will be able to create more natural ways to store and filter water.”
The South Florida Water Management District will acquire 26,790 acres from U.S. Sugar for $197 million and will now be able to pursue options for water quality treatment on that land.
Earlier this year, one of U.S. Sugar’s competitors, along with the Miccosukee Tribe, filed a motion to keep the reservoir project alive. They waged a fierce legal and lobbying war to derail the U.S. Sugar deal. Rival sugar growers wanted the reservoir to store water to irrigate cane fields.
U.S. District Court Judge Frederico Moreno had granted a motion to force the South Florida Water Management District to build the $700 million reservoir. Then he appointed a special master to review the case. The special master, John Barkett, released his report today, recommending that the reservoir project be abandoned now that more than 26,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land will be available for restoration.
“This is a good decision for Florida,” Guest said. “We’ll end up with a better restoration plan in the long run.”