Guest contributor Eric Eikenberg says that Everglades restoration “will take bold, decisive leadership – a builder.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the 451,000-acre Lake Okeechobee, calls it “the heart of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system.” This photo shows the lake, as seen from Pahokee State Park. / Florida Food & Farm file photo

By Eric Eikenberg,
The Everglades Foundation

Welcome back to the Winter White House, Mr. President. We are grateful you call Florida your second home.

But we are in trouble. Too much polluted water is dumped from Lake Okeechobee onto the communities along the east and west coasts. This has been going on for decades, but the effects are becoming critical.


Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 242 days last year because of toxic algae caused by the Lake Okeechobee discharges. Beaches were closed. Fishing was restricted. Children were made sick. People living close to the water had to leave their homes, and tourists canceled their vacations.

Countless billions of dollars are being lost in impaired real estate values, tourism and recreational-related jobs.

Eric Eikenberg / Contributed

The algae even reached the Lake Worth Lagoon – a stone’s throw from where you are reading this.

Unfortunate paradox

While the communities along the east and west coasts are getting too much water, the Florida Keys are not receiving enough. Some of the finest sport-fishing on the continent has been put at risk because Florida Bay now receives just one-third of the fresh water it once did.

Our problem is two-fold: too much water going east and west; not enough water going south into the Everglades and Florida Bay.

For nearly two decades now, there has been broad political and scientific consensus on how to fix this. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is a series of water infrastructure projects designed to fix the antiquated flood-control system of South Florida so that water flows where it needs to go.

Reservoir is a priority

A major water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee was listed as a priority in the plan – a 60,000-acre artificial lake that will store upwards of 120 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water so that it can be cleansed and sent south.

Under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the federal government shares the cost with Florida’s taxpayers – and in the meantime, Florida’s voters have identified a specific stream of money to pay our state’s share.

Needed: “bold, decisive leadership”

For 17 years now, however, politicians and bureaucrats have pointed fingers and dragged heels when it comes to the reservoir – and that’s where you come in. It will take bold, decisive leadership – a builder – to kick-start the reservoir and save the place we all know and love.

Mr. President, the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir is now pending in the Florida Legislature, but your leadership could be the single biggest factor in its passage: It will create thousands of good-paying construction jobs, and its completion will save countless billions of dollars that are now being lost.

CERP signed into law in 2000

In the 17 years that our politicians and bureaucrats have delayed this reservoir, the Chinese have built entire cities and the world’s biggest dam. The Turks have completed the Marmaray Tunnel – 47 miles of underwater railway.

Surely, we Americans can build a reservoir, especially with so much at stake.

Our entire Florida congressional delegation has urged that Everglades restoration be included in your forthcoming budget and infrastructure plan.

Mr. President, please listen to them: No infrastructure project is more critical to America’s Everglades than the southern Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir.

Eric Eikenberg is chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, based in Palmetto Bay, near Miami.

For more information about the foundation, visit evergladesfoundation.org.

For information about the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, visit www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/upload/CERPFSLoResSecure.pdf.