BACKGROUND: The Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) are integral components of the Everglades and the water supply for southeast Florida. The 862,800-acre WCAs comprise about half of the Everglades. The WCAs help recharge wellfields, prevent flooding of the urban southeast coast, provide protection for the natural ecosystem and provide about one-fourth of the water for Everglades National Park.

The WCAs are rich in fish and wildlife resources and provide excellent recreational opportunities. The Florida panther, Everglades kite, wood stork, American alligator, and whitetailed deer are only a few of the notable species that inhabit the WCAs.

The plan for protecting the WCAs is to acquire the remaining lands not in public ownership (approximately 62,653 acres), restore more natural hydrology, remove exotic vegetation and' protect water quality by implementing the Florida Everglades Forever Act of 1994.

An October 1988, federal lawsuit against the state and the SFWMD alleging that federally owned or leased lands in the Everglades were being damaged by agricultural runoff water containing excess phosphorus was largely settled by agreement among the parties on July 26, 1991. This agreement was approved and entered as a consent decree by the federal court judge on February 24, 1992. However, the litigation shifted to the state administrative arena when the Everglades SWIM Plan and the permits for SFWMD water control structure discharges were challenged by agriculture. Although the litigation did not resolve all the issues, it did lead to an intensive year-long mediation effort. This effort led to development of a "Technical Mediation Plan" dated October 1993. The most important elements of this plan were incorporated into the Florida Everglades Forever Act of 1994. The plan improved upon a March 1992, Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Plan. Under the SWIM Plan, "Stormwater Treatment Areas" would be constructed in the EAA on some 35,000 acres and a detailed research, monitoring and regulatory program would be implemented to reduce total phosphorous loads by 25 percent. The "Technical Mediation Plan" also included treatment for water discharged to tide (Canal 139 and Canal 51 basins), treatment and diversion of water to the south that is periodically discharged to Lake Okeechobee from the EAA, and improved water quantity benefits. A modified Technical Plan was published in February 1994, which included redesign for Stormwater Treatment Area 5 and excluded publicly owned lands in the Rotenberger Tract for stormwater treatment.

On May 3, 1994, Governor Chiles signed into law the "Florida Everglades Forever Act," passed by the Legislature on April 15. The Act provides for a broad, long-term restoration effort and is expected to bring an end to numerous legal challenges. It will enable implementation of the cleanup program originally embodied in the Everglades SWIM Plan and the Technical Mediation Plan as modified. The comprehensive Everglades restoration program authorized in the Act includes requirements for establishing a numerical water quality standard for phosphorus and an extensive research and monitoring program. It establishes an "agricultural privilege tax" and other financial provisions to pay for construction, operation and maintenance of the program. It also provides for the restoration of the quantity, timing and geographical distribution of freshwater flows to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

1. On June 4, Colonel Terry L. Rice, Chairman, Federal Task Force Working Group and Chief, Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers, forwarded to Assistant Secretary of the Interior George Frampton a report with recommendations for the expenditure of 1996 Farm bill funds for Everglades restoration projects. The priority list closely correlates to the priorities recommended by the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida on May 30, 1996.

2. The SFWMD acquired 9,742 acres in the East Coast Buffer project area; approximately 58,312 acres remain to be acquired.

3. Acquisition negotiations are underway on the Talisman Sugar Corporation properties. No agreement on a purchase price has been reached.

4. During the period, conservation intervenors in the Everglades Lawsuit filed in the U.S. Southern District Court copies of the 1996 Farm Bill and its legislative history as evidence supporting their argument that an extension of time to meet water quality standards is not needed and therefore modifications to the lawsuit settlement agreement and consent decree are not necessary. In addition, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians filed various motions regarding the proposed modifications. The SFWMD and agricultural interests have filed responses to the motions. The court has ruled on several of the Miccosukee Tribe's motions and is expected to soon rule on the earlier motions heard in November and December 1995 (the Miccosukee Tribe's motion to enforce the consent decree, agriculture's motion to dismiss and the settling parties motion for modifications to the settlement agreement).

5. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been asked by the federal South Florida Ecosystems Restoration Working Group to chair an interagency Water Quality Team. The team is reviewing water quality/stormwater treatment issues in western Broward County (C-11 Basin), western Dade County and the C-111 basin. In Broward County, untreated stormwater is routinely discharged through the S-9 structure directly into WCA-3A. The issue involves the three gaps in the L-67 A and C canal, which were opened experimentally by the Corps and then closed last year because of high rainfall. The untreated stormwater enters the L-67 canals and flows through the gaps into WCA-3B, an area of excellent water quality.

6. On February 14, Colonel Terry Rice informed the SFWMD that the Corps had major concerns regarding the permit applications for the construction of the Stormwater Treatment Areas in the EAA. These are mercury, timing of hydropattern restoration in WCAs 2A, 3A and Holeyland/Rotenberger, possible effects on water quality (if the final phosphorous discharge standard is less than 50 parts per billion) and whether the STAs are the best solution for treating water to the final standard. A workshop on these issues is scheduled for July 19 in West Palm Beach.

7. On May 30, the DEP published a Notice of Intent to issue a permit to the SFWMD for the operation and maintenance of existing structures not included in the Everglades Construction Program that discharge into, within or from the Everglades Protection Area. The DEP has received a petition for an administrative hearing pursuant to Chapter 120, Florida Statutes, from the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and Friends of the Everglades. Concerns about the proposed permit have also been recieved from Everglades National Park and Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge staff. Changes suggested by these parties are likely to result in minor modifications to the draft permit.

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