Note: This column was featured on TCPalm.com on Dec. 11, 2017.
By Ernie Marks, SFWMD Executive Director
For the past several years, I have been fortunate to serve in leadership roles at several state agencies focused on Everglades restoration. In August, I was honored to accept the position as the executive director of the South Florida Water Management District with unanimous approval of the Governing Board.
Through these various career posts, I have reinforced the importance of water storage, quality and conveyance projects aimed at restoring America’s Everglades and the essential connection each plays in ensuring the successful future of this one-of-a-kind system.
In recent years, I have witnessed the monumental progress made on water quality under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott and his landmark Restoration Strategies plan, coupled with the extensive efforts of agencies like the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Make no mistake, the magnitude of continuing to improve upon these water-quality endeavors is a lot for any one agency to lead. However, with more than 1,400 South Florida Water Management District employees all pulling in the same direction and a Governing Board unrivaled in its dedication for the Everglades, the district can accomplish this and other interconnected initiatives, such as the planning efforts set forth under Senate Bill 10.
I have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with district scientists and engineers who tirelessly plan and model toward this water storage and treatment undertaking, while also implementing the critical southern flow of clean, fresh water through the advancement of the other components of the Central Everglades Planning Project.
On May 9, Senate Bill 10 became state law to provide increased water storage south of Lake Okeechobee as part of an effort to reduce harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. The Florida Legislature has entrusted this critical mission to the district and Army Corps of Engineers because our agencies have the expertise, experience and determination to get the job done.
Beyond those who will physically touch this reservoir project, the district’s planning process still needs the continued support and advocacy from interested individuals seeking to make a difference in South Florida’s water future. It is only through these efforts and public conversations that everyone can understand the complexity of our objectives, as well as envision the reward if we continue to keep our shoulder to the wheel.
This district always has followed the letter and intent of the law, turning the words of legislators into tangible, effective projects. As with any public process, stakeholders will have different opinions, but we all share the ultimate goal of restoration.
This district vows to maintain momentum on southern water storage while continuing to work with the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the public and others, to advance this project consistent with state law.