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$250M approved by federal government for Everglades restoration, a win for SWFL water quality

Millions of federal dollars are slated for Everglades restoration in the state.

In the middle of a 5,600-page spending bill, $250 million is approve for restoration that impacts Southwest Florida.

Clean water advocates see it as a win-win plan, since the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir would send water south from Lake Okeechobee down to the parched Everglades and Florida Bay. That would mean fewer damaging releases sent to Southwest Florida.

“Today, the good news is that we’re only getting 800, a little over 800, 828 cubic feet per second from the lake,” said Chris Wittman, the co-founder and program director of Captains for Clean Water.

Wittman can sometimes be found at W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam on the Caloosahatchee River near Olga in Lee County.

“It’s good we’re no longer getting those damaging discharges from the lake, but the water that’s been pushed out into the estuary over the last three months is, the nutrients is there,” Wittman explained.

Slowing releases from Lake Okeechobee are among reasons why Wittman is excited the EAA Reservoir project just got a boost.

“The appropriations bill that just was signed this past weekend gives us historic funding of $250 million for Everglades restoration,” Wittman said. “That’s a $50 million increase over last year.”

The bill also passes the Water Resources Development Act 2020, which Wittman says helps move reservoir construction forward.

This comes as South Florida Water Management District works in tandem to complete the Stormwater Treatment Area for the reservoir.

“We’re building the canals, and that’s going to be about a year ahead of schedule for our schedule,” said Chauncey Goss, the governing board chairman of SFWMD.

Water experts say nutrients from Lake Okeechobee releases contribute to red tide blooms.

Video and images from Ralph Arwood, a pilot for LightHawk conservation flying, shows dead fish on Naples Beach.

There are a handful of dead fish, and a thin eel-like sea creature can also be seen in the water close to shore.

Collier County Pollution Control found high concentrations from red tide from a recent sample at Naples Pier.

Concerns continue, but efforts are moving in the right direction for those who monitor water quality in the state.

“We’re continuing to see progress because the public is staying engaged and getting involved, and I think, as a long as we continue to do that, we’ll continue to see progress,” Wittman said.

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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