Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

FL -Everglades restoration moves closer to reality with a crucial groundbreaking by

It's been 23 years since Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, an ambitious program to undo, at least in part, the damage done by humans to one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.

In the interim, Everglades restoration has made halting progress, with much of the delay centered around a key central component—a reservoir and filtration marshes that reconnect Lake Okeechobee with the Everglades.

The reservoir and stormwater treatment marshes would store dirty water from Lake Okeechobee, clean it, and send it south to the parched Everglades and eventually to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District finally broke ground on the project, dubbed The Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. Both organizations refer to it as the "crown jewel" of the restoration process. It's one of 68 projects outlined in the restoration plan, but arguably the most important.

This project "is the keystone that deliberately reconnects Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades," said Col. James Booth, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District at the groundbreaking on Wednesday.

To understand the function of the reservoir, you must understand what the EAA is. The Everglades once flowed from just south of Orlando, through Lake Okeechobee, all the way to Florida Bay. It has been dammed and drained. The EAA, once part of the River of Grass, is now a 1,160-square-mile block of farmland below Lake Okeechobee covered in sugarcane and other crops.

The area depends on water from the lake for irrigation, and its existence and water needshave dictated where water flows in South Florida for decades.

In order to reconnect the Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, which needs the fresh water, the reservoir will allow a portion of the lake's water to skirt farmland and head south, just as it had for thousands of years.

The original CERP plan called for a massive six-foot-deep, 60,000-acre lake on EAA land. What the EAA Reservoir actually will be is a 10,000-acre square that's 23 feet deep. Its total capacity will be about two-thirds of the original plan.

Read more.