In is inexcusable that a sluggish U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may sabotage a key effort to revive the Everglades and drastically reduce coastal pollution.
The Corps’ Civil Works Review Board this week surprised state officials and environmentalists by refusing to approve the Central Everglades Planning Project, which would clean up water from Lake Okeechobee and release it into the Everglades. Now excess water is dumped into the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast and the St. Lucie River on the east coast.
The delay could be devastating because Congress plans to develop a water bill this summer, and the last such bill was passed in 2007.
Florida officials were optimistic Congress would split the costs of the $2 billion project.
Now, thanks to the dawdling Corps, federal funds for the effort could be lost for years.
Gov. Rick Scott rightly urged the Corps to quickly reconsider.
Noting that the rainy season that results in harmful Okeechobee discharges is rapidly approaching, Scott said that though the state had collaborated on the cleanup plan with its federal and local partners, “the federal government added more bureaucratic hurdles in our efforts to restore water quality ...”
Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, also castigated the Corps’ lackadaisical attitude:
“Ignoring last summer’s environmental and economic destruction, caused by the Corps of Engineers dumping of billions of gallons of polluted water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries, the Corps is showing callous disregard for the people and businesses.”
It is not as if the Army Corps did not know the importance of approving the project in time to be considered in the congressional water bill. And the agency is familiar with the plan and knows the importance of avoiding massive discharges of polluted water from the lake.
The water is dumped as a safeguard against flooding but has proved devastating to both coasts, resulting in algae blooms, fish kills, dying seagrass beds and unsafe bacteria levels. It has been blamed for the deaths of manatees, dolphins and pelicans.
Yet corps officials told a Sun Sentinel reporter that getting the review done in time to allow the project to be included in the federal water bill is not their priority.
Nobody expects a rubber stamp, but as Scott points out, Florida has worked with federal officials throughout the process. There is no need for delay.
The Central Everglades Planning Project would improve Everglades wildlife habitat and augment South Florida’s drinking water supplies.
In contrast, continuing to send the water to the coasts is damaging to the environment and the economy.
Scott is precisely right. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board bureaucrats desperately need a sense of “urgency.”