Decision Will Help Cleanse Florida's Everglades

Earthjustice convinces court to let state abandon reservoir project

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Earthjustice won a key victory at summer’s end in our long-running fight to restore the Florida Everglades. A court-appointed Special Master recommended that the state be allowed to abandon a $700 million reservoir project in the southern Everglades Agricultural Area.

Why is this good news? The reservoir was once an important part of Everglades restoration, but the giant public works project was mothballed—and rightly so—when Florida negotiated a deal to buy large swaths of Everglades land from the U.S. Sugar Company. The U.S. Sugar land holdings are a better alternative to store and filter polluted runoff as it runs down the peninsula into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

Back when the reservoir was first planned, there was no possibility that Florida could get more Everglades land into public ownership. So the plan was to engineer around the vast sugar company holdings. The reservoir project then became, essentially, a giant water supply project for Big Agriculture—and the ag interests weren’t ready to let it go.

One of U.S. Sugar’s competitors, along with the Miccosukee Tribe, filed a motion earlier this year to keep the reservoir project alive. They waged a fierce legal and lobbying war to derail the U.S. Sugar land deal altogether.

The legal case has had its ups and downs. Initially, U.S. District Court Judge Frederico Moreno granted our opponents’ 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.

Special Master John Barkett came down on our side when he released his report August 30. He recommended that the reservoir project be abandoned now that the state has struck its land deal with U.S. Sugar.

Under the land deal (pared down from its initial scope due to the recession,) the South Florida Water Management District will acquire 26,790 acres from U.S. Sugar for $197 million.

The Special Master’s conclusion is a good decision for Florida. Chances are, we’ll end up with a better restoration plan in the long run—and maybe one day our grandkids won’t have to worry about dirty water from industrial agriculture trashing Everglades National Park—one of the most unique places on the planet.

David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.