In April 2010, Judge Alan Gould issued a court decision regarding the Florida Everglades — essentially directing the EPA to give clear and comprehensive instructions on restoration to Florida agencies by Sept. 3, 2010.

As part of his decision, Gold ordered the agency to “establish specific milestones to ensure that the State of Florida does not continue to ignore, and improperly extend the compliance deadline for meeting the phosphorous … criterion in the Everglades Protection Area.” Gold, who said that the “established wrong” in the case was “the failure of the EPA and the State of Florida to comply with the [Clean Water Act] for more than two decades,” also required the EPA to issue an Amended Determination that would “direct the State of Florida to correct [its] deficiencies.”

From an EPA press release:

“With this action, EPA is complying with the law and acknowledging that we must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades,” said Stan Meiburg, Acting Regional Administrator for EPA’s southeastern region. “The State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District have done much good work already and we hope to build on that by meeting both the substance and the spirit of Judge Gold’s decision with this plan, and to achieve clean water standards as soon as possible.”

But the South Florida Water Management District has since found fault with the determination, and the district doesn’t seem to be going down without a fight. On Nov. 2, the District issued a response to the EPA, in the form of a letter penned by district Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle. Calling the schedule for restoration “unrealistic,” Wehle said her district is “unwilling to accept the undue and unreasonable financial burden that EPA’s $2 billion proposal places on South Florida’s taxpayers.”

From the letter (.pdf):

To be clear, the District’s objections to EPA’s mandates are not about an unwillingness to move forward with our restoration objectives. To the contrary, the District has already decided to advance a handful of affordable but meaningful water quality projects identified in EPA’s Amended Determination that are within our current financial capabilities. Ultimately, this is about making the right decisions for the natural system, advancing scientifically sound restoration strategies and a state’s right to manage its financial and natural resources in the best interest of its citizens.

EPA Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming wrote back on Nov. 26, arguing that the schedule is ambitious, but nonetheless achievable:

We reviewed the data and information provided by the District regarding the design, construction, and commencement of operations … and we considered the input of our technical experts and our federal partner agencies. The schedule in the Amended Determination is based on this information, and we believe it to be a practicable solution to the challenges in this matter.

Fleming, who noted that Everglades water quality restoration is “far from finished,” wrote that the EPA encouraged the district to reconsider their decision in order to contribute to the collective goal of Everglades restoration: “Now is not the time to enter into further extended planning. Now is the time to … move forward with the projects on a specific schedule that will achieve these important water quality goals for restoring and protecting the Everglades.”

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