Restoring America's River of Grass is getting expensive.
In a five-year update from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers released Wednesday, federal officials estimated that the cost of the massive restoration effort launched in 2000 and expected to cost $8 billion has doubled to $16.4 billion. And that's in today's dollars.
Much of that is due to inflation, although changes in design and the addition of some projects also drove up costs, according to the report.
Issued every five years, the report updates Congress on progress on work shared by the Corps and Florida. In the latest installment, Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy found efforts satisfactory, while Interior Secretary Sally Jewell praised "significant progress" in a sprawling plan that "tests our science, our engineering capacity, and our ability to work well with our intergovernmental partners."
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Since the last report, the state and Corps have allocated more than $1.2 billion in the past five years. Among the projects started or completed in the last five years: a sprawling reservoir and stormwater treatment area on the Caloosahatchee river, a massive pump in the Picayune Strand and a spreader canal to help move water into ailing Florida Bay.
Initial cost projections, the report notes, were fairly generic because many design details were unknown. The plan covers about 68 projects in an 18,000 square-mile region that reaches from the north end of the Everglades above Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay. It is intended to restore, as best as possible, the natural flow of water that once replenished the Everglades and today, under growing threats from increased demand and sea rise, provides fresh water to more than 8 million people.
In its 2010 update, the Corps estimated costs would likely rise to $13.4 billion. Among the biggest jumps in cost is work to restore the south end of the Indian River Lagoon, which rose by $1.3 billion. The project includes a sprawling reservoir and stormwater treatment area designed to capture dirty water from land and Lake Okeechobee that has polluted the lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary over the years.
For decades the river and estuary have been used as a release valve when water gets too high in the lake. This past winter, heavy rain forced water managers to dump billions of gallons of water that turned shores a grimy black.