Protecting Fresh Water
The Conservancy works to ensure clean water for Florida’s people and nature.
Our long-term vision for freshwater conservation in Florida is simple, but ambitious: Florida must have enough clean water for both people and nature.
The 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act
Signed on October 23, 2018, this new law affords investment in water infrastructure improvements across the country. Importantly for Florida and America’s Everglades, the law authorizes the United States Army Corps of Engineers to construct the new Everglades Agricultural Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The bill also contains a measure that promotes realignment of levees and other flood structures after a disaster, plus it updates the way that federal agencies pay for drinking water and wastewater projects using revolving loan funds. These provisions will help Florida plan for the long term to ensure clean and sufficient water for nature and people.
Nature—such as reefs that break waves and wetlands that absorb floodwaters—is oftentimes our most effective line of defense against storms. And nature-based solutions often cost less and outperform traditional, manmade infrastructure. In these ways, nature can provide win-win solutions that benefit communities and the environment.
Restoring the Source: The Everglades
The Florida Everglades, one of the only great grasslands in the world, is marked by a silent, slow sheet of fresh water moving above and below ground. This vast wetland provides water to nearly 8 million people living in the southern stretches of the state. The Everglades recharges the aquifer as it slowly soaks up and releases waters southward. As a result of past wetland drainage, Florida has lost large supplies of fresh water for both people and wildlife. But that loss does not have to be permanent.
The Conservancy is working to protect, restore and connect lands and wetlands critical to the replenishment of the state’s aquifers. These lands provide critical habitat for wide-ranging species, like the Florida panther and black bear, as well as other species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and sandhill crane. We completed restoration of the wetlands on the Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve, perfecting the process of wetlands restoration over the last 20 years and applying lessons learned to help restore other conservation land. The Conservancy works with ranchers in the northern Everglades to reduce agricultural water use and nutrient run-off, and protect lands for water recharge. This has provided a foundation for meaningful change in the Everglades.
We’ve preserved 350,000 acres and facilitated expenditure of $280 million dollars through federal programs to protect and restore wetlands that help replenish the aquifer. Today, these wetlands are returning at least 500 million gallons of water from seasonal rains to the aquifer. And, as part of these efforts, we helped secure The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, the first refuge established in two decades, and the first of its kind in Florida. It links public and private lands with 150,000 acres for recreation, while helping restore the natural flow of water to the greater Everglades. These efforts are essential for improving water quality and preserving wildlife habitat.
Because large-scale water storage and treatment is key to restoring the health of the Everglades, the Conservancy supports the completion of the regional storage and water-quality projects that are part of state and federal programs for restoring the Everglades. We helped to secure $200 million in funding to support the multibillion dollar State and Federal Everglades restoration effort, including funding for completion of two large reservoirs, both of which capture excess discharges from Lake Okeechobee to protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries from harmful algal blooms caused by excess nutrients and pollution. These projects are critical to improving the health of the estuaries, which are damaged by high water releases from Lake Okeechobee. We also support completion of the Herbert Hoover dike to protect both people and nature from the damaging effects of flooding.
Recovering Natural Springs
Florida’s springs provide critical groundwater to rivers and estuaries, while offering unique opportunities for swimming, fishing and other recreational pursuits. Visitors contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Florida’s economy each year.
Florida’s springs are struggling, though. The Floridan aquifer, the source of groundwater for most of Florida’s springs and 90 percent of the state’s drinking water, is being depleted as water demand from urban areas and unsustainable agricultural practices continually increase. Pollution, including fertilizer and sewage runoff, invasive species, excessive nutrients and erosion are also damaging the health of our springs.
The Conservancy is here to help. Our springs initiative focuses on collaborative approaches to placing freshwater springs into sustainable management and lasting protection. We’re taking a multifaceted approach in key springs and springsheds by developing restoration initiatives like pilot projects, studies, springshed planning, land protection and outreach. We’re using science to back us, examining water flows needed to make springs healthy. We’re demonstrating how industries can minimize their footprint in the springshed. We’re supporting education and outreach to further the springs legacy.
Despite recent declines in the quantity and quality of water, we believe vibrant communities with sustainable economies and healthy springs systems can coexist, but changes in people’s behavior and actions will be necessary. Protecting Florida’s iconic springs is essential for wildlife, such as the Florida manatee.
Legislative and Policy Work
The Conservancy has been working to ensure Florida water law, rules and policies provide greater protection of water resources. We work closely with Florida legislators as well as in Washington. In 2016, we secured specific language included in the Florida Water Bill, requiring projects that produce water for people and nature be planned and funded together. The Conservancy’s language was the only new language included in the bill during the 2016 session.
We also impacted The Legacy Florida Act, which dedicates 25 percent or $200 million of Amendment 1 funds to Everglades restoration and 7.6 percent or $50 million to springs protection. This legislation ensures a predictable revenue stream that will greatly improve project planning and completion to benefit the Everglades.
The Conservancy also made important strides through policy input in Central and South Florida. We received an appointment to the Management Oversight Committee of the Central Florida Water Initiative, the guiding body overseeing water supply planning spanning Orange, Osceola, Seminole and southern Lake counties, and three of the state’s five Water Management Districts. Participating in the Initiative gives the Conservancy an extraordinary opportunity to shape water policies and practice in Florida. We also received an appointment to the Water Resources Advisory Commission, which provides input to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board on Everglades restoration and other water resource initiatives in South and Central Florida.
TNC is hard at work on the ground, in the water, and with local, state and federal governments, universities, other environmental organizations, businesses, and individuals to ensure our freshwater future.