Monday, November 20, 2017
Opinion

Agreement on pollutants will help restore Everglades

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We are all painfully familiar with the decline of the Everglades over the years. One of the sources of this decline is phosphorus pollution from agricultural sources and urban runoff. This pollution has caused thousands of acres of destroyed and degraded habitat, and hindered our ability to truly enjoy this landmark. Restoring the Everglades will also have significant economic benefits. The Everglades supports tourism, recreation, agriculture and supplies drinking water to a growing South Florida population. The ecosystem also supports jobs and contributes billions to Florida's economy.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency took a significant step toward restoration when we found that permits submitted by the state of Florida will satisfy the agency by taking specific measures to improve water quality to levels that will restore and protect the Everglades. These permits were submitted in response to a September 2010 amended determination, authored by EPA and filed in federal court, which provided a blueprint for remedies needed to restore water quality in the Everglades. The state built upon and modified that work, proposed an alternative approach, and has further modified the proposal at the request of EPA.

Restoring the Everglades is one of the largest, most ambitious and complex ecological restorations ever undertaken, requiring a coordinated effort among many stakeholders to be successful. Over the last two years, the EPA, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District have worked closely to develop a plan that contains a set of scientifically sound restoration projects to reduce phosphorus pollution. We will remain an active partner with the state in overseeing implementation of the plan.

The state's package has many positive attributes. There will be a formal, science-based protective limit known as Water Quality Based Effluent Limit on phosphorous pollution discharges into the Everglades. This limit will be achieved by implementing a suite of projects on a specified schedule, and includes a state and federal enforceability framework agreed to by the parties. While EPA would prefer an earlier schedule for implementing the corrective actions, EPA is hopeful the timetable can be accelerated if circumstances and resources permit.

The Obama administration and the EPA are firmly committed to protecting and restoring the Everglades. In fact, the administration has reinvigorated federal leadership in Everglades restoration, investing more than $1.4 billion to jump-start construction projects and protect essential habitat on working lands.

EPA appreciates the hard work that Florida's DEP has undertaken to deliver this final package to us. This effort puts the state back on the path to achieve the final levels of phosphorus removal that will protect the Everglades, paving the way for other major restoration projects that depend on clean water. The most important thing is to begin now on this final phase of restoring water quality in the international treasure that is the Everglades.

Gwen Keyes Fleming is the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4.

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