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Millions Targeted for B.C. Tribe Plan Keys Restoration Project

By Vida Volkert

HOLLYWOOD - The Seminole Tribe may be collecting $36 million from the federal government as part of the Seminole Tribe's Big Cypress Reservation Water Conservation Plan.

The Water Conservation plan is part of the ambitious $7.8 billion Everglades restoration project - the largest restoration project in the world - which the Clinton Administration presented to Congress on July 1.

"If the project is approved, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide the Tribe $24 million," said Craig Tepper, Director of Water Resource Management of the Seminole Tribe. "This money is a matching grant and will match the Tribe's $24 million, totaling $48 million to restore the water management system on the west side of the Big Cypress Reservation."

Tepper also said that under the Water Conservation Plan another $12 million will be provided by the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Services. These funds, however, are not included within the $7.8 billion budget of the Everglades Restoration bill. But, the money is part of a grant that requires the Tribe to invest Tribal funds.

"This $12 million grant will go with our $4 million, totaling $16 million to restore the East Side of the Big Cypress Reservation," said Tepper.

The Seminole Tribe's Big Cypress Reservation Water Conservation Plan includes the construction of water control, management, and treatment facilities in the Big Cypress Reservation. The overall purpose of the plan is to improve the quality, quantity and distribution of water at the right time in and around the reservation, said Tepper.

"The water that runs off from the west side of the reservation comes from supplemental irrigation return systems and rainfall that is collected into a system of canals," said Tepper, adding that these canals serve to collect the storm water from the reservation and cut off sheet flow to the Big Cypress National Preserve Area, which then drains to Water Conservation Area 3A.

Tepper said the Tribe has reserved hunting, fishing and frogging rights in Water Conservation Area 3A.

"We are going to increase water into the lands south of the West Feeder Canal which will also reestablish the historical sheet flow-flood pattern," he said.

This historical flood pattern, described by Everglades advocate Marjory Stoneman Douglas as a "River of Grass," has suffered a lot of damage over the years.

"The historical River of Grass was cut when developers built walls, dikes and canals to divert its waters and prevent the cultivated lands from flooding," said Tom Van Lent, a research hydrologist at Everglades National Park. Van Lent worked closely with the Army Corps of Engineers in designing the Everglades restoration project that is currently awaiting passage by Congress.

Van Lent said that the flood control project cut off much of the water flowing to the Everglades and many plants and animals have not been able to cope with the changes in the amount of water flowing through the ecosystem.

He said that salt water is also creeping from the ocean and fresh drinking water is becoming scarce in south Florida.

"Our plan is to make the Everglades function like a river again. We want to reunite the Everglades," said Van Lent.

Under the Big Cypress Reservation Water Conservation Plan, Tepper said that water managers - which include the South Florida Water Management District, and state and Tribal agencies - are going to modify the canals, water control structures, pumps, and storm water treatment areas within the reservation to contribute to reestablishing the natural flood pattern.

He also said that the upstream flows entering the west and north canals will be routed to the west through two storm water treatment areas, a plan that will also increase the delivery of clean water into the Conservation Area.

"We are going to have a healthier ecosystem providing larger opportunities for ecoturism because we are going to produce more habitat for fish, frog and deer in the Water Conservation Areas," Tepper said.

Under the approved Water Conservation Plan, Tepper said that the Water Management District will be delivering as much as 47 thousand acre-feet of water a year to the Tribe.

"The Big Cypress Reservation is 52,000 acres, so that puts water for meeting much of the entire reservation's need," he said, adding that an acre-foot of water is the quantity of water required to cover one acre to a depth of one foot.

"The water we don't use, will be redistributed," he said. As to the east side of the reservation, which is used by the Tribe for cattle operation and agricultural purposes, Tepper said the plan calls for improving the quality and quantity of water. Part of the plan calls for controlling runoff and eliminating phosphorous which is a major pollutant in south Florida waterways. By controlling this runoff, the Tribe will also be improving and generating supplemental irrigation water resources for agriculture within the Reservation.

"If we get good quality water, hopefully in 50 years this plan will reverse the damage that has been done," Tepper said. "We're trying to improve this whole area, help the habitat, and leave it better for future generations."

Stuart J. Appelbaum, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Jacksonville District, said the Seminole Tribe's Big Cypress Water Conservation Plan was included within the Everglades Restoration Plan in an effort to contribute to`` the whole system.

"We are looking for improvements in the whole system in South Florida and Big Cypress is an important component to that outcome," Appelbaum said. "That is why the Conservation Plan is included in the Everglades Restudy.

"But, no matter what happens with that bill, prior legislation has already highly ranked the Tribal Plan. So, the Tribe's portion of the bill will take effect regardless of the outcome of the legislation."

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