Everglades restoration activists are lauding the recent 99-1 passage of legislation with provisions for a billion-dollar reservoir near Lake Okeechobee. 

It pushes the $1.6 billion project closer to reality, after passing from the White House Office of Management and Budget to the U.S. Senate, where it was approved Oct. 10 as part of a water resources bill.

When Lake Okeechobee is filled to the max from excessive rainfall, billions of gallons of polluted water are released and flow to the east and west coasts. It comes as no surprise that the nutrient-rich fresh water, plagued by too much phosphorous, causes algae blooms, especially when accompanied by higher summer temperatures. 

“It’s like pouring gasoline on an already-lit fire,” said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation, referring to the lake water as it fuels algae growth. 

The 16,000-acre reservoir will be able to hold 75 billion gallons of would-be released toxic water, which will be filtered in water treatment marshes and further flow south, and to the Everglades. 

“That estuary is desperate for a reliable source of fresh water,” he said.

After the reservoir project received approval from both the U.S. House and Senate, it moved on to the desk of President Trump, who signed it Oct. 23. The next step is for Congress to appropriate $200 million annually for the reservoir to be built, and for other Everglades projects. 

“We’re hoping this reservoir can be built in the next four years,” said Eikenberg, which could help stem the growth of red tide. The algae red tide has been all over the news on both sides of Florida, as it causes fish kills, and poisons pets as well as people. 

Keys residents were a vital part of getting the reservoir project moving, Eikenberg said, adding that activists have been working on getting the bill passed at the federal level for two years. 

“I met with Sandy Moret in January 2016 and urged him to mobilize the Keys community in the fight for this reservoir and what came of that was a coalition of business environmental groups called the Now or Neverglades Coalition, and Sandy spearheaded that whole movement,” he said. 

Moret and his wife, Sue, operate Florida Keys Outfitters in Islamorada. He is also the founder and an instructor of the Florida Keys Fly Fishing School.

“The rain water in the rainy season is supposed to fill up Okeechobee, and it’s supposed to overflow,” Moret said. “If you look at Google Earth, the whole agricultural area was part of the lake, and that overflow was supposed to come through the belly between East Coast and the West Coast,” he said, especially into the Florida Bay. After the “belly” was dammed in 1935, it starved the bay of fresh water.

The pollution is an issue everyone cares about, as proven by the bipartisan legislation passed, Eikenberg said. 

“It’s great,” Moret said. “It’s putting a stent in the blockage of the heart for the Everglades. That’s how I like to look at it.”

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