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A 12-year, $880 million plan to clean up the Everglades was released Monday, the latest development in a nearly 25-year legal fight over water quality in the fragile ecosystem.
The blueprint proposed by the South Florida Water Management District, the lead state agency on Everglades restoration, pulls together pieces of plans proposed last year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"Water entering the natural system will finally be cleaned up," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. "This is a necessary step toward getting fresh water into the parched Everglades."
Lawsuits date back to 1988 over enforcement of Clean Water Act standards in the vast wetlands area of the Everglades. Proposals to settle such complaints have centered on lowering levels of phosphorous, which comes from fertilizer and promotes the growth of unhealthy vegetation that chokes native plants.
The latest proposal would create five stormwater treatment areas covering 57,000 acres in an effort to filter phosphorous.
Paul Tudor Jones II, chairman of the Everglades Foundation, applauded the plan, saying it was the beginning of "a promising new era" for restoring the Everglades.
"They have crafted a sound plan, with achievable project goals, that will make a meaningful difference in restoring this unique, national treasure," he said.
Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, said she was encouraged by the proposal because of its strict deadlines. But she said state lawmakers would need to be convinced to fund the projects.
"We're going to have to work with the Legislature in the near future and impart on them how important this is," she said.
The Everglades have been damaged for decades by the intrusion of farms and development. Dikes, dams and canals have been cut, effectively draining much of the swamp and polluting it with fertilizers and urban runoff. The state and federal governments' efforts to restore the wetlands have been stymied for years by funding shortfalls, legal challenges and political bickering.