FLORIDA CITY, Fla. (AP) — The first phase of a long-awaited Florida Everglades restoration project appears to be stopping the loss of freshwater from the fragile ecosystem long choked and drained by neighboring development, officials said Friday.
The project is one of dozens that aim to restore the natural flow of freshwater through the Everglades into the ailing Florida Bay.
Construction began on the so-called C-111 Spreader Canal in 2010. A rush of water Friday afternoon through a new pumping station marked the project's official dedication by the South Florida Water Management District, which leads Everglades restoration efforts for the state.
It plugs an existing canal and pumps 290 million gallons of water each day to build a kind of wall of water at the eastern edge of the Everglades National Park, which has lost too much water to a flood control system and other development in Miami-Dade County.
"It keeps the water that's the right water in the right place and avoids those losses," said Tommy Strowd, the South Florida Water Management District's director of operations, maintenance and construction.
Since testing began on the C-111 project a year ago, lower water levels have been recorded in the flood control system — meaning the barrier is stopping freshwater from seeping out of the park, Dan Kimball, the park superintendent.
Also, by the end of South Florida's rainy season, water levels in the slough leading into Florida Bay were higher than they had been for "a long, long, long time," which park hydrologists partly attributed to the project, Kimball said.
"Restoration is not an idea — it's actually happening," Kimball said.
Though it will be a few years before the success of the project can be measured adequately, the early signs show that it will have a significant benefit for the bay, officials said. Project operation will be evaluated yearly.