Projects underway that will restore life to Biscayne Bay, Florida Everglades

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Wednesday is World Water Day, a day that highlights the importance of fresh water and the sustainable management of fresh water resources.

On this day, we honor the most precious to all of us who live in Florida, the Everglades.

After a century of human-caused disruptions to the natural flow of the River of Grass, urgent and multibillion-dollar restoration projects are now taking place.

It is the dawn of a new era for the Florida Everglades.

After decades of planning, at long last what was wronged is finally being made right.

“This project is critical for Miami Dade County’s resilience and its future,” said Miami-Dade Chief Bay Officer Irela Bague.

On Tuesday, a groundbreaking was held for a new pump station at Black Point Marina off Cutler Bay.

“To restore Biscayne Bay, we have to get the water right,” said Bague. “Right now, the water Biscayne Bay is getting is not optimal. It is full of nutrient pollution.”

The project is the final component of a 20-year mission to clean up the polluted water flowing from the C-1 canal into southern Biscayne Bay, redirecting it to hydrate three miles of parched coastal wetlands, where nature can do what it’s supposed to do.

“Basically, nature will clean it,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Charlie Martinez. “The mangroves will clean it, they absorb the nitrogen and the phosphorus on the water, which are the pollutants.”

A slow sheet flow through the mangroves will send clean, fresh water into Biscayne Bay and help bring back wildlife that historically thrived there.

“This takes a canal, turns into the mangrove marsh,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett. “Seventeen hundred acres (of a) beautiful ecosystem that animals will enjoy, humans will enjoy and it will protect Biscayne Bay.”

The project also plays a crucial role in restoring the Everglades.

“These projects are adding up and we’re seeing the benefits accumulating as a result,” said The Everglades Foundation Chief Science Officer Stephen Davis.

Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre saw those benefits up close when The Everglades Foundation took our crew on a tour of wetlands just north of Everglades National Park, off Tamiami Trail, east of Big Cypress.

Life was and is bouncing back, where historic flows of water have now been restored.

“This was part of that historic River of Grass that was connected from the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee,” said Davis.

Over the past 100 years, humans have disrupted the natural flow, dredging and draining the Everglades to make room for development and agriculture, farmland that sucked up most of the lake water and sends deadly nutrient runoff into estuaries and waterways to the east and west, killing acres of seagrass and the marine life that depends on it.

“Dumping water from Lake Okeechobee, to that estuary and to the Caloosahatchee, it’s like a kick in the gut for those estuaries and communities every time that happens,” said Davis.

But now, thanks to the combined efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District and many other groups and agencies, Florida is finally on the path to getting its water right.

“All of us want it here in South Florida, we want to make sure that the water gets right,” said resilience scientist Dr. Meenkashi Chabba.

The bottom line is: if you get the water right, you get resilience right.

Everglades restoration is our first line of defense against saltwater intrusion and sea level rise and it restores balance to our challenged ecosystems.

In the past three months, there have been major advancements -- the Cutler Wetlands Pump Station, the Taylor Slough Improvement Project and the crown jewel of them all, the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir, or EAA.

“That groundbreaking really signifies a major leap forward in Everglades restoration,” said Davis.

The 16-square-mile reservoir will lessen the flow of dirty discharges to the east and west of Lake Okeechobee and restore the natural flow of clean water south.

“It allows us to take that water, store it, clean it and put it back in the Everglades, where it belongs,” said Davis.

It’s expected to be completed and ready by 2032, and thirsty Florida Bay will finally get a drink.

“When we’re sending more of that water south, we’re improving conditions for seagrass in Florida Bay that really isn’t getting enough fresh water,” Davis said.

Cumulatively, all of these projects are giving our challenged ecosystems time to heal from all the pollution while restoring flow and balance to our natural backyard.

When the Everglades win, we all win.

“The more we add, the greater the benefit becomes, and the greater the footprint of that benefit becomes,” said Davis.

Legendary Everglades champion Marjory Stoneman Douglas once famously said, “The Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we get to keep the planet.”

More projects are on the way.

The federal government has earmarked a record $447 million for restoration and, this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis committed to spend $3.5 billion on Everglades restoration over the next four years.

For more information on the restoration work being done or to find a way to get involved, click here.

Information on attending the gala for the Alliance for Florida’s National Parks, taking place at the Frost Museum of Science, can be found by clicking here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.