Another important step in the restoration of the Everglades was taken today as the Special Master in the continuing Everglades litigation recommended that stronger measures be taken to protect the Everglades from water pollution. The latest round of litigation began when the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, backed by conservation groups, argued that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) had violated a federal Consent Decree by dumping pollution into the Everglades at illegally high levels.
The Special Master, who was appointed by federal Judge Federico Moreno in Miami, heard weeks of expert testimony on the causes of and solutions to phosphorous level exceedances occurring within the Everglades. In his 108 page report issued today, Special Master John Barkett recommended that the federal court find that pollution levels violated the Consent Decree. The Special Master rejected all claims by the SFWMD and the DEP that there were no violations because the Consent Decree was mistaken.
The report recommended mandating DEP and SFWMD to expand storm water treatment and storage areas by 18,000 acres and to have all expansions fully operational in not more than four years. It also recommended ordering the Technical Oversight Committee, which is composed of State and Federal representatives and charged with overseeing technical issues, to become more active and provide more information. Finally, it urged ordering the DEP and SFWMD to continue to keep the Court abreast of its progress in cleaning up the Everglades through new technologies.
Earthjustice represents a broad coalition of conservation groups, including National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Audubon Society of the Everglades, and the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club, and has supported the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in enforcing pollution limits within the Everglades.
“We’re all working towards cleaning up the Everglades and today’s decision was a major step on the way,” 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 from fertilizer in agricultural wastes damage plants and other wildlife that rely on clean water. The Everglades is a World Heritage site and is threatened by water pollution from farms and cities. Ultimately, a sizable fraction of Everglades water ends up in the drinking water of south Florida residents. Earthjustice has been expressing growing concern over the safety and quality of south Florida’s drinking water supplies.