Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fla. Plans to Reflood Miles of Riverbed

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 11, 2006; 12:25 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- State water managers have acquired about 103,000 acres of land as part of a plan to reflood 43 miles of the Kissimmee River bed, allowing the water to reclaim its original meandering path toward Lake Okeechobee and on into the Everglades.

Development and farm land encroachment have shrunken the Everglades to half its original size of 4 million acres.

The Kissimmee River project, authorized by Congress in 1992, will fill a 22-mile flood control canal between the headwaters of the river near Orlando and Lake Okeechobee at the top of the Everglades. Seven miles already have been filled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We have wading birds coming in like we've never seen before, fish coming into the river, and water quality is rapidly improving," said Ernie Barnett of the South Florida Water Management District, which spent $300 million purchasing the land.

Water managers spent years resolving compensation issues with property owners over how much the land actually was worth. It was fully acquired last month. The entire project is set for completion by 2011. A ceremony was scheduled for Wednesday to recognize the accomplishment.

Environmentalists applauded the project but said much more needs to be done downstream if the Everglades is ever to regain its health.

"The headwaters are now going to be flowing into Lake Okeechobee, which has really become a cesspool, so any benefits you have from the system are completely lost," said David Reiner, president of Friends of the Everglades.

The 22-mile canal, dug in the 1960s, is partly to blame for the pollution in Lake Okeechobee, Barnett said. Massive amounts of water flooded into the lake, reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the floor and killing plant life that filters pollutants.

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