A bus tour to draw awareness to the Everglades is in full swing through Florida. The #NowOrNeverglades Bus Tour hit the Tampa Bay area Friday. WMNF spoke by phone with Eric Eikenberg, Chief Executive Officer of the Everglades Foundation. Among other things, he talked about how the river of grass could benefit from the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
“We were established in 1993, non-profit. Our mission is to ensure that we have the protection of the Everglades.
“The Everglades is a vital ecosystem. It’s the water supply for nearly 8,000,000 Floridians. It’s the home to 77 endangered and threatened species and it’s the economic lifeblood of Florida, certainly South Florida, with the number of industries that are impacted in a positive way, as it relates to a healthy ecosystem, a healthy Everglades.
“Over the 20 plus years that we’ve been in existence, we’ve been working with decision makers, policy makers in Washington and in Tallahassee–to ensure that the largest restoration project, in the history of the world, that these projects are built and that we can keep more water on the peninsula, be able to flow that water south and let’s end this decades long practice of dumping and wasting freshwater out to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.”
So, what’s holding that up? Why is there water that’s being sent to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Atlantic instead of flowing through the Everglades?
“Well, this didn’t happen overnight. There were a number of decisions, over the many, many decades that caused that natural sheet flow of water, that natural flow of water from Orlando–Shingle Creek in Orlando is the headwaters of the Everglades–when the water would go through the Kissimmee river down to Lake Okeechobee, it would naturally flow south and it would reach the Florida Keys, over time. When the Army Corps of Engineers built the dyke around Lake Okeechobee, that cut off that natural flow of water. When they built the road from Tampa to Miami–Tamiami Trail, US-41–that decapitated the water flow in the southern part of the ecosystem.
“So, we are replacing or we’re fixing the sins of previous generations. And the beauty of this issue? It’s a unifying one. Sixteen years ago, Republicans and Democrats came together, in a very bipartisan way, to pass the Everglades Restoration Plan. A plan that lays out specific projects that need to be built so that we can re-engineer, re-plumb the way water flows, here in Florida. That’s what we’re dealing with right now.”
We’ve heard the State blaming the Federal Government. We’ve heard the Feds blaming Florida. What’s the next step? How do we get to a point where we get something done rather than just playing the blame game?
“Well, that’s true. The blame game, it’s an old tired tactic of point fingers, don’t take responsibility or quite frankly, it’s not even about taking responsibility, it’s stepping up and doing what’s right.
“The issue here is when restoring the Everglades, it’s a marriage between Washington and Tallahassee. You need both sides have to be engaged in order to do this.
“So, there’s money. We have the money to build these projects, thanks to 75% of Florida voters, who passed Amendment 1, back in 2014. So, the money’s there. We have a plan, like I mentioned, The Everglades Restoration Plan.
“But, what has been lacking is political will to really go after the key projects. Deal with the projects that are going to reconnect Lake Okeechobee or take Lake Okeechobee water and flow it south instead of dumping it east and west. This, Now or Neverglades effort–this movement–that has begun where there’s almost 32,000 people that have signed [a] declaration calling for a reservoir, an aboveground reservoir, to be built south of Lake Okeechobee, so that you have a new outlet to send that water instead of, again, wasting billions of gallons of fresh water, which happens to be polluted, which is why we see all this algae, toxic algae. But, to be able to build this reservoir south of the lake, provide a new outlet to send that water south, store it, and then clean it so that the Everglades can have clean, fresh water. Mind you, it is the source of water for nearly 8,000,000 Floridians.”
What’s keeping the reservoir, south of Lake Okeechobee, from being built?
“There’s no question that the desire or the need for this reservoir has been agreed upon. I just want to go back to 16-years ago, when President Clinton signed the Everglades Restoration Plan. The second project that was authorized, in that legislation, was the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Again, this hasn’t been concocted over night. It’s a plan that’s been in place for many, many years.
“Now, we just need Tallahassee to step up. We have an incoming Senate President, who has announced his desire to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee, to build the reservoir. What’s important now is we have a state-wide political leader who’s willing to get it done. This Now or Neverglades movement is supporting Senator Negron’s efforts there.”
Those are my only questions. Is there anything else our listeners need to know about this?
“If listeners are interested in this, I would encourage them to engage folks in this listening area, that get out and fish, they go out and enjoy the outdoors that Florida provides. I know they go beyond the Tampa Bay listening area. They go down to south Florida. We’re all in this together. We’re all Floridians. Whether you live in Tampa Bay or you live in south Florida, we cannot lose this national treasure. It’s America’s Everglades.
“We take great pride in this ecosystem that we have. It’s so unique.
“I would encourage folks, again, if they’re interested, to text the word WATER to 66866 and join the effort. The Now or Neverglades effort.”
Eric, thank’s so much for joining me today.
“Thank you for having me.”