Why is the Central Everglades Project needed?

For the restoration of America’s Everglades to be successful, we first have to understand how the drainage engineers changed it; the Everglades’ natural function should be the blueprint for restoration of the “River of Grass.”


Historically, the Everglades flowed slowly southwards from its headwaters at Shingle Creek near Kissimmee down to Everglades National Park.

The Everglades watershed begins in Shingle Creek near Orlando. Water used to flow through marshes, lakes and rivers and into Lake Okeechobee—one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country. When Lake Okeechobee got full, it would spill over its southern bank and flow into the Everglades, creating the “River of Grass.” This broad, shallow river, unlike any in the world, would flow southward toward the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay (located at the southernmost part of Everglades National Park). Moving only a few feet per day, the flow was barely perceptible, but water levels would rise and fall in sync with seasonal rainfall.


Currently, billions of gallons of freshwater are diverted to the east and west coasts of florida via the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatachee River.

The Corps of Engineers began massive alternatives in the 1930’s, beginning with a dike around Lake Okeechobee, cutting the Everglades off from its water supply. That water was then diverted into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries where, instead of sustaining the natural ecology, it destroyed it. Because the Everglades was deprived of water, the drainage engineers built a series of dams in the “River of Grass” to hold back the water, “making one drop do the work of two”, and turning the once slow-moving river into a series of lakes. These lakes were managed for flood control and were largely out of sync with the natural seasonal rhythms under which the Everglades had evolved. The result was ecological collapse.

As pointed out the by the National Academy of Science in their fourth annual report to Congress, the efforts to restore the Everglades largely bypassed the “River of Grass” and Everglades National Park, an area we now call the “Central Everglades.” The Central Everglades Project (CEP) is the first step towards making the present-day Everglades work more like it used to, bring environmental benefits to the St. Lucie River, the Caloosahatchee River, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay.

The project works by taking water that today would be discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and their estuaries, where it does massive damage, and sending that water southward to the Everglades, where it sustains the natural system.  Before this water arrives in the Everglades, it must be cleaned up, as decades of unchecked nutrient pollution has left Lake Okeechobee waters seriously polluted. After the water is cleaned, the dams in the Everglades are modified or removed to allow the water to flow across the surface in a broad, shallow sheet, as it once did historically. The water arrives in Florida Bay when it’s needed, late in the dry season, nourishing the bay and sustaining the delicate balance of salt water and freshwater.

CEP is a big step in the right direction for America’s Everglades, but it is not the last step.

Much more water still needs to flow south; the Everglades need more water and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers need additional relief. CEP is the first restoration project that can be implemented now to yield improvements on a regional scale.


Download the latest Central Everglades Project fact sheet below, or click here.