On March 21, 2023, a federal district court entered an Order On Cross Motions For Summary Judgment in the Sugar Industry’s legal challenge to the Everglades Agricultural Area (“EAA”) Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (“STA”). The court ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and against the Sugar Industry Plaintiffs on both their Water Resource Development Act 2000 (“WRDA 2000”) Savings Clause claim and their National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) claim.
ELC had filed an Amicus Curiae (or “Friend of the Court”) Brief in the case on behalf of seven organizations – Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sanibel Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, The Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce, Captains for Clean Water, The Everglades Foundation, and Florida Bay Forever. The brief supported arguments made by the Corps rejecting the Sugar Industry’s challenge.
We are gratified that this Order allows Everglades restoration to proceed by way of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (“CERP”), and we emphasize that a contrary decision would have been devastating for Everglades restoration.
The case was specifically about the EAA Reservoir and whether the reservoir itself would be able to be operated to direct approximately 210,000 acre-feet annually of clean water to the Everglades when needed or whether the reservoir would need to be operated to replace 500,000 acre-feet of water “lost” to the Sugar Industry when the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 2008) was approved. The Order makes clear that the reservoir can direct water to the Everglades and need not hold the Sugar Industry harmless to LORS 2008 – which the Order finds is a “non-CERP” action designed to ensure the integrity and safety of the Herbert Hoover Dike. But the Sugar Industry’s arguments about the proper interpretation of WRDA 2000 go beyond the EAA Reservoir. Had the court accepted their argument, future Everglades restoration projects might also need to be planned, constructed, and operated to replace any and all water lost to water users since December 2000, regardless of how or why water supplies had been reduced. This could leave very little – if any – water for Everglades restoration.
(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Photo Brigida Sanchez)