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In A Step Forward For Everglades Restoration, Senate Approves Reservoir Plan

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Kate Stein
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WLRN
Steve Davis, an ecologist at the Everglades Foundation, examines a glob of periphyton in a water conservation area near Tamiami Trail.

A project intended to help address blue-green algae outbreaks took a major step forward Wednesday as the U.S. Senate passed a bill that includes a proposal for an Everglades water storage reservoir.

Senators approved the bill, which includes many other water-related projects nationwide, by a margin of 99-1.

The reservoir would be built south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce the need for water discharges east and west. The lake water contains high levels of nutrients like phosophorus and nitrogren, which fuels algae blooms in inland waterways and coastal areas, including the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Read more: Southern Reservoir? Northern Reservoir? Research Says Florida Needs Both

"The recurring toxic algae blooms in South Florida and the 2015 seagrass die-off in Florida Bay tell us our watershed is sick," Celeste De Palma, director of Everglades policy for the non-profit conservation group Audubon Florida, said in a statement. She called the reservoir and other Everglades restoration efforts "the antidote the ecosystem needs."

The reservoir was championed by outgoing Florida Senate President Joe Negron and developed on an expedited timeline by state and federal water managers.

Policymakers, scientists and environmental groups alike hope that momentum will continue as the water bill heads to President Trump for approval.

Read more: Toxic Blue-Green Algae Blooms In Fort Lauderdale's Waterways

In a statement, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said he's hopeful the project can be completed in as little as four years. That's an aggressive timeline, especially considering that in the years since a comprehensive Everglades restoration plan was approved in 2000, fewer than five of its original 68 projects have been completed.

"The history of Everglades restoration is littered with back-slapping celebrations followed by communal amnesia as projects that began in earnest were abandoned, delayed or held hostage to special interest politics," Eikenberg said. "Now, the real work begins."