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Biden proposes another $407 million for Everglades restoration. Most would go to a reservoir south of Lake O

A cloud over Everglades national Park.jpg
Everglades National Park
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The White House budget unveiled Monday includes $407 million for Everglades restoration. The largest share is expected to help pay for a $3.5 billion reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for 2023 includes $407 million for Everglades restoration, with a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee expected to receive the largest share.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael Connor said more than $300 million would be allotted to the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir. That nearly equals $350 million budgeted for Everglades restoration last year, which he said was mostly spent on the reservoir.

“So we’re making substantial investments to continue construction activity,” Connor said.

The sprawling 17,000-acre project is expected to cost $3.5 billion and is now on track for completion in 2029, followed by two years of operational testing. The reservoir will be able to hold an amount of water equal to about a half foot from Lake Okeechobee and help avoid sending dirty lake water to northern estuaries during the wet season. During the dry season, the reservoir and treatment marshes could hold and clean water needed to refresh southern marshes.

Last year, the Corps awarded its first contract for inflow and outflow canals and a maintenance road totaling nearly $80 million.

This latest money would be used to continue designing a massive embankment for the 11,000-acre reservoir that abuts the 6,000-acre treatment marshes. The money would also pay for work on the reservoir’s foundation, said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellman.

Spellman said other projects expected to get funding include a smaller reservoir west of Lake Okeechobee to help reduce polluted discharges to the Caloosahatchee River and restoration efforts in the southern Indian River Lagoon. Money would also got to a suite of projects in the central Everglades aimed at moving more fresh water into marshes in Everglades National Park and Shark River, he said.

Earlier this year, the White House announced it would spend nearly $1.1 billion on Everglades restoration from a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan hammered out with Congress in November. Gov. Ron DeSantis sharply criticized the administration for not including the reservoir in that plan. But Corps officials said legislation authorizing the spending required money be used only to fully complete projects.

The infrastructure plan was designed to deal with the nation’s backlog of neglected highways, ports, internet, utilities and other infrastructure.

Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.