Environmentalists Criticize New Government Plan to Increase Polluted Stormwater in the Everglades

MIAMI (May 3, 2002) - An Army Corps of Engineers plan, made public today, to build large new storage facilities for hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted stormwater on the borders of Everglades National Park, threatens to flood and pollute the Park and is an improper use of the money Congress authorized for restoration of the Everglades, three environmental groups charged today. Availability of the plan, developed at the behest of the regional water district, the South Florida Water Management District, was published in today's Federal Register.

"This plan is a new twist on the decades of harm to the Everglades from urban sprawl and agribusinesses. Now, these interests want to pollute and flood the Glades in the name of an endangered species and funded by restoration dollars," said Brad Sewell, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. An original version of the plan, released last fall, had been negotiated for purposes of saving the highly-imperiled Cape Sable seaside Sparrow.

Internal emails obtained by NRDC under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the Corps, regional water district, and consultants for agribusinesses and development interests (some of which were in litigation with the Corps at the time) helped negotiate the use of the federal facilities in the Everglades for pumping and storing the stormwater. While availability of the plan was only published in the Federal Register today, construction of the new facilities is already under way. Hydrologic modeling and other technical analyses are currently being conducted and will be released publicly no sooner than May 21, 2002.

"It is unprecedented to have the most significant federal construction in this part of the Everglades for the last quarter century already underway, and we are still waiting for the necessary environmental analyses to be released," stated John Adornato of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The new federal/state plan includes virtual completion of the long-delayed restoration project known as the C-111 Project. According to federal law, the primary purpose of the C-111 Project is to restore the Park's natural water flows. The just-released plan also expedites construction of a pumping facility from the so-called Modified Water Deliveries Project, mandated by Congress in 1989 to restore water flows into the Park. In 2001, Congress authorized the start of an approximately $8 billion plan to restore the Everglades.

"The District and the Corps need to take responsibility for the crisis of confidence that is occurring around Everglades restoration. This plan shows how easy it is for this unprecedented program -- which is being watched by the entire world -- to be captured by special interests," said Alan Farago of the Sierra Club.

Last October, the Army Corps released a different version of the water management plan, which had been agreed to, after lengthy negotiations through the spring and summer of 2001, by the Corps, the water district, the Park, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This plan was focused on provide short-term changes to water management to help save the protected Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. In December, however, the water district pulled its support for the agreed-upon plan, seeking to continue to use the federal system of canals and levees around the Park for increased stormwater drainage from encroaching urban sprawl and agribusinesses that the district water managers had been conducting over the last two years. The Army Corps put the stormwater facilities on the same fast-track as the actions intended to benefit the Everglades sparrow.

The public will have thirty days to comment on the plan and operation of the new facilities is expected to start at the end of June.

Environmentalists fear that, during the upcoming wet season, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater will be pumped into Everglades National Park from the so-called S-332B reservoir. Under last summer's agreement, this was largely prohibited. Under the new plan, however, the regional water district hopes to use this overflow at its discretion and the Corps asserts only that they will allow such water pollution into the Park under "emergency" circumstances but without specific definition of what such circumstances are.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The National Parks Conservation Association is a national, non-profit organization founded in 1919, with over 450,000 members nationwide and 26,000 members in Florida. NPCA's mission is to protect and enhance America's National Park System for present and future generations.

The Sierra Club is a national non-profit membership organization founded in 1892, incorporated in California, and headquartered in San Francisco. Sierra Club's mission is to explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives. Sierra Club has over 550,000 members.

Related NRDC Pages

The Everglades