The Office of Ecosystem Projects is the lead office responsible for implementation of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s responsibilities under the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (NEEPP), pursuant to Chapter 373.4595, Florida Statutes (F.S.).
In May 2007, the Florida Legislature passed the NEEPP, which expanded the existing Lake Okeechobee Protection Act (LOPA) to include the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. The primary goal of the legislation is to restore and protect Florida’s surface-water resources by addressing the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water to the natural system.
What led to the creation of NEEPP?
Various efforts to restore and protect the greater Everglades ecosystem have taken place over the past few decades.
Lake Okeechobee Protection Act
In 2000, the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act (LOPA; section 373.4595, F.S.) was passed. Under LOPA, the Florida Legislature mandated DEP, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to establish a restoration and protection program for the lake.
This program was to include a Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan that contained an implementation schedule for subsequent phases of phosphorus load reduction consistent with the total maximum daily loads established in accordance with s. 403.067. Other elements of the program included the Lake Okeechobee Construction Project; the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Phosphorus Control Program; the Lake Okeechobee Research and Water Quality Monitoring Program; the Lake Okeechobee Exotic Species Control Program; and the Lake Okeechobee Internal Phosphorus Management Program.
Lake Okeechobee and Estuary Recovery Program
In October 2005, then-Governor Jeb Bush announced the Lake Okeechobee Estuary and Recovery Program. This program is intended to help restore the ecological health of Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. SFWMD, DEP, FDACS and the Florida Department of Community Affairs were the key state agencies tasked with expediting this program.
Major components of the Lake Okeechobee Estuary and Recovery Program included Lake Okeechobee Fast-Track Projects; Lake Okeechobee Operating Schedule Revisions; Revised Environmental Resource Permitting Criteria; Alternative Water Storage and Disposal Options; Lake Okeechobee Tributary Total Maximum Daily Loads; and Mandatory Fertilizer Best Management Practices (BMPs).
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) provides a framework and guide to restore, protect and preserve central and southern Florida’s water resources. CERP’s primary goal is to capture freshwater that now flows unused to the ocean and the gulf and to redirect it to areas that need it most. CERP is a joint effort between SFWMD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The plan was approved by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. The plan includes more than 60 elements.
The goals and objectives of CERP and NEEPP significantly overlap; therefore, the efforts complement and support one another.
What are the main components of NEEPP?
This legislation charged SFWMD, DEP and FDACS with coordinating the creation of this program effectively.
Phase II Technical Plan
A Phase II component of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project was added in the 2007 NEEPP legislation. The legislation requires SFWMD, in collaboration with DEP and FDACS, to develop a detailed technical plan that includes measures for the improvement of the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water in the northern Everglades ecosystem, including the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the estuaries, and for facilitating the achievement of water quality standards.
The plan was submitted to the Florida Legislature on Feb. 1, 2008, for ratification.
Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River Watershed Protection Program
To achieve water quality standards and to improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water in the northern Everglades system, SFWMD, in cooperation with DEP, FDACS and affected local governments, must develop protection plans for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie river watersheds.
These plans were submitted to the state Legislature for ratification on Jan. 1, 2009. There are three main components of these watershed protection plans:
River Watershed Construction Project. To improve the hydrology, water quality and aquatic habitats within the watershed, SFWMD was directed to plan, design and construct the initial phase of the Watershed Construction Project no later than Jan. 1, 2012. SFWMD was to develop and designate facilities to be constructed as part of this endeavor to achieve the goals of the watershed protection plan.
River Watershed Pollutant Control Program. This program is a multifaceted approach to improving management of pollutant sources within the watersheds through implementation of regulations and BMPs, development and implementation of improved BMPs, improvement and restoration of hydrologic function of natural and managed systems, and utilization of alternative technologies for pollutant reduction.
River Watershed Research and Water Quality Monitoring Program. In cooperation with the other coordinating agencies and local governments, SFWMD shall establish this program that builds upon the district’s existing research program and is sufficient to carry out, comply with, or assess the plans and programs laid out in the legislation.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.