Since November 2014, the Everglades Foundation has been working to finalize an option to purchase land from US Sugar in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). The deal — which is no longer on the table — dates back to 2008 when the State announced a plan to acquire as much as 187,000 acres of agricultural land owned by the US Sugar Corporation.
At the time, however, the economy was in the midst of a bursting real estate bubble. Consequently, the State scaled the land purchase back to 26,800 acres in 2012 at a cost of $197 million while preserving the option to buy more land in the future. Had it exercised its option, it would have been able to acquire 46,800 additional acres of US Sugar-owned land in the Everglades Agricultural Area at a price of $350 million.
Back in May, the South Florida Water Management District voted to forgo buying sugar land for Everglades restoration.
Despite the cancellation of the option, acquiring additional land to build a storage reservoir remains an essential component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) authorized by Congress in 2000. The pre-drainage water flow together with the current water flow and the restored flow with the land acquisition option are illustrated below.
Our Science Team worked diligently on the EAA land purchase, providing key facts and other information, conducting and interpreting hydrological and water quality modeling, and demonstrating the benefits of water storage to Everglades and estuaries for the Foundation’s policy staff, partners and public officials.
Moreover, a petition calling for sending more water south was prepared and signed by over 200 leading scientists working on Everglades-related issues. The petition was sent to the Florida Senate president, the Speaker of the House and to the chair of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District.
Since fall of 2015, the Science Team has continued to spearhead water storage efforts and is now focusing on simulating several storage alternatives north and south of Lake Okeechobee while checking ownership, land ecological importance, and benefits to estuaries and the Everglades with the goal of providing storage recommendations and preparing for next steps to complete critical CERP projects.
All in all, another unique opportunity exists for Everglades Foundation scientists to impact the process and to have their ideas considered as part of the State planning effort for the Everglades Agricultural Area and the greater Everglades ecosystem.