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Key Everglades Restoration Measure Advances Through Congressional Committees

USGS via Wikimedia Commons
Sugarcane fields and stormwater treatment areas near the Everglades Agricultural Area.

A reservoir project that could help address water challenges in the Everglades is one step closer to being built.

Congressional committees on Thursday approved a bill that, if passed, would authorize construction of a $1.4 billion water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The reservoir would help reduce water discharges from Lake Okeechobee that contribute to algae blooms on Florida’s coasts; it would also increase water flow south to Florida Bay.

Read more: What We Talk About When We Talk About Everglades Restoration

"The Everglades is the water supply for over 8 million people," said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, one of the organizations that has helped see the reservoir through planning efforts led by the South Florida Water Management District. "It’s an economic engine. Certainly the fishing industry, boating, tourism, they all rely on a healthy Everglades."

Credit Martin County Health Department
Blue-green algae along the shore of Martin County. Blue-green algae blooms on Florida's Treasure Coast last summer had a devastating impact on the region's tourism, fishing and wildlife.

He says the blue-green algae blooms that choked tourism and fishing on Florida’s coasts in the summer of 2016 have made an impression on elected officials in Washington D.C. In April, Eikenberg was among 200 Everglades advocates who traveled to Capitol Hill to build support for restoration efforts.

"I’m just really pleased that the sense of urgency that came out of the crisis in 2016 has not let up," he said. "The time is now to act. And we’re getting closer to seeing this become a reality."

The reservoir is expected to cost about $1.4 billion dollars, split between the state of Florida and the federal government.

Now that the Water Resources Development Act -- the bill that contains the reservoir project -- has passed the Congressional committees, it will be sent to the federal Office of Management and Budget for review.

After that, the bill would go before Congress for a vote.