Florida completes treatment wetlands ahead of schedule

As a part of Florida's ongoing commitment to restore the Everglades, the Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District completed over 5,000 acres of additional treatment wetlands to clean water flowing into the famed River of Grass. Three weeks ahead of schedule, water managers finished expanding three stormwater treatment areas in the Everglades Agricultural Area, adding roughly 3,878 football fields of wetlands to an existing network of treatment areas...

Acceler8 expansions add 5,120 acres of treatment to further improve Everglades water quality.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Dec. 13, 2006 -- As a part of Florida's ongoing commitment to restore America's Everglades, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and South Florida Water Management District announced today completion of more than 5,000 acres of additional treatment wetlands to clean water flowing into the famed River of Grass. Three weeks ahead of schedule, water managers finished expanding three stormwater treatment areas (STAs) in the Everglades Agricultural Area, adding the equivalent of 3,878 football fields of wetlands to an existing network of treatment areas.

"Florida has broken ground on six projects in the last two years to restore wetlands and expand water treatment areas years ahead of schedule," said DEP Secretary Colleen M. Castille. "These stormwater treatment area expansions go above and beyond legal requirements, demonstrating the State's success in instituting green technologies, which are today improving water quality in the Everglades."

Florida is enhancing stormwater treatment areas as part of its $1.8 billion Acceler8 initiative. The three initial STA upgrades -- at STA-2 in Palm Beach County and STA-5 and STA-6 in Hendry County -- add 5,120 acres to the State's 36,000 acres of existing treatment wetlands. When complete, the Acceler8 upgrades will provide an additional 18,000 acres of treatment wetlands in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

"Acceler8 is a shining example of state and regional government level collaboration at its best," said Kevin McCarty, SFWMD Governing Board Chairman. "Together, we're turning dirt and getting projects in the ground at an aggressive pace to restore the Everglades ecosystem. Our fast-tracked restoration work is serving as a model for the nation."

The constructed wetlands contain aquatic plants that naturally cleanse phosphorus from water before it enters the Everglades. Since 1994, constructed wetlands together with improved farming practices have prevented 2,200 tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades -- cutting phosphorus loads to the River of Grass by 71%.

"Our commitment to Everglades restoration is as strong as ever," said Carol Ann Wehle, South Florida Water Management District executive director. "And these are not just words. Our commitment is demonstrated in the tremendous action and progress we've made over the past 24 months. We've spent $90 million to date and contracted $508 million more to substantially complete five super critical restoration projects and start construction on three more -- all aimed at bringing environmental benefits to the Everglades ecosystem as soon as possible."

Announced by Governor Jeb Bush in October 2004, the Acceler8 initiative is stepping up the pace of funding, design and construction to complete eight important Everglades restoration projects over five years. At substantial savings to taxpayers, the projects will restore 100,000 acres of wetlands, expand water treatment areas by close to 29,000 acres, including the 18,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area. It will provide 418,000 acre-feet of additional water storage for Everglades restoration a decade ahead of schedule.

Under the leadership of Governor Bush, Florida has forged ahead to implement the $10.9 billion, state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Since 2000, Florida has invested more than $2 billion of the committed $3.3 billion through the end of the decade to clean up and restore the famed River of Grass. For more information on Acceler8, visit www.evergladesnow.org

The South Florida Water Management District (www.sfwmd.gov) is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state -- 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys. It is the oldest and largest of the state's five water management districts. The agency mission is to manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving water quality, flood control, natural systems and water supply.

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Also see: "SFWMD Says U.S. District Court Ruling Offers No Additional Benefit to the Environment: Requiring federal permit for operation of Lake Okeechobee pumping stations may hinder Everglades restoration progress"

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