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Florida Water Managers Call For Ending Federal Court Oversight Of Everglades Clean-Up

In 1992, Florida agreed to settle a lawsuit over polluted water flowing from farm fields, like this sugar field photographed in 2008, in a consent decree that called for the state to clean up the water.
In 1992, Florida agreed to settle a lawsuit over polluted water flowing from farm fields, like this sugar field photographed in 2008, in a consent decree that called for the state to clean up the water.

A quarter century after the state promised to clean up polluted farm water fouling the Everglades in a historic federal court order, water managers say its time to end the judicial oversight.

In an email earlier this month, an attorney for the South Florida Water Management District asked the U.S. Department of Justice to agree to terminate a “consent order” struck to end a bitter legal battle over dirty water flowing off sugarcane fields and into Everglades National Park and the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The district, which has repeatedly pushed to end the judicial oversight, argues that with water in 90 percent of the Everglades now meeting targets and construction on schedule for clean-up projects, the order is no longer needed.

“This protracted litigation … stands today as an antiquated and inequitable vestige of a bygone era,” attorney James Nutt wrote in a draft motion he forwarded to DOJ attorneys Feb. 10. “It is the right time to acknowledge the State parties’ remarkable achievements.”

But plaintiffs in the lawsuit and environmentalists warn ending the consent order at a time when restoration efforts remain far from complete — none of the 68 projects that make up the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is done — would remove a powerful tool for insuring work gets done. They worry the state, which has changed deadlines, failed to clean up pollution in Lake Okeechobee and reneged on a promise to replace a reservoir needed to provide water to South Florida, will instead declare victory before goals are met.

They also fear the push to remove court supervision comes at a pivotal moment: with a new president and a new boss at the Environmental Protection Agency who has fought to end its regulations.

Read more at our news partner, the Miami Herald

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