Much of the last two years have been focused on the need to send water south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay instead of compromising the safety of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee or damaging the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Thousands of everyday citizens, anglers, parents and business owners have worked alongside The Everglades Foundation to advance Everglades Restoration. Together, we have achieved major policy milestones including congressional authorization of the Central Everglades Plan (CEP) in 2016 and passage of Senate Bill 10 by the Florida Legislature in 2017. These projects work together to allow water from Lake Okeechobee to be stored, cleaned and sent south to the Everglades where that water once flowed and where it is desperately needed.
This week, the South Florida Water Management District announced that it will expedite two components of CEP that will alleviate a constraint in our ability to flow freshwater to Everglades National Park. The District proposed to turn dirt on two features, known as Expansion of the S333 structure and removal of the “Old Tamiami Trail.” Here’s the scoop on why getting these seemingly small restoration projects off the books and into the ground are a big deal.
The S333 is a gated spillway located along Tamiami Trail (about 12 miles west of the intersection with Krome Avenue) that delivers water from the L-67A canal to the L-29 Canal where it can then flow under the newly completed bridges along Tamiami Trail into Everglades National Park. Today, the S333 allows a maximum of 516,000 gallons of water per minute to pass into the park; however, expansion of this spillway will more than double its capacity to send water south. This also provides much-needed relief in the water conservation areas where excessive ponding of water is damaging tree islands and threatening wildlife. Upon completion, water managers will be able to immediately operate this spillway maximizing ecological benefits from investments already made to bridge Tamiami Trail.
Water managers will also begin removal of the “Old Tamiami Trail”—an abandoned road south of Tamiami Trail stretching nearly six miles from the S333 to Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley Visitor Center. Lying perpendicular to the flow of water, the “Old Tamiami Trail” is an impediment to the flow of water from Water Conservation Area 3A into Everglades National Park. Removing this obstruction will increase wetland acreage and will amplify water flow into Everglades National Park. This project will remove the old road, relocate power lines that serve the Miccossukee Tribe of Indians, and allow native wetlands to re-establish. This project removes yet another physical barrier to freshwater flow through the park and all the way to Florida Bay.
The greatest threat to Everglades restoration is bureaucratic delay. These projects were not slated to be completed until 2026, but having them operational next year provides us with flexibility to relieve emergency high water conditions in the water conservation areas sooner rather than later. These projects will certainly benefit Everglades National Park. They will also help prevent the further degradation of habitat and loss of wildlife in Water Conservation Area 3A, which contains some of the most intact ridge, slough and tree island habitats in all the Everglades.