Historically, the Everglades used to cover most of South Florida, stretching from present day Orlando all the way south to the Florida Keys. Water from the Kissimmee River would fill Lake Okeechobee and then flow south into the River of Grass. But sadly, this is no longer what the Everglades looks like.
Today, water can no longer freely flow south from Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades Agricultural Area, owned mostly by subsidized sugar companies, sits right where the River of Grass used to begin. The water in Lake Okeechobee has been contaminated with all kinds of nutrients from agricultural fertilizers, like nitrogen and phosphorus, so much that the water in the lake is considered far too polluted to be sent directly on to the Everglades like it used to.
Instead, we hold all of this polluted water in Lake Okeechobee until the water levels become so high that billions of gallons of polluted water have to be dumped down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers and out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Not only is this a waste of precious drinking water, but it also damages our coastal estuaries, kills fish, and contributes to toxic Red Tide that endangers millions of Floridians up and down the coast.
Meanwhile, The Everglades and Florida Bay, the headwaters of the Florida Keys, are desperate for clean, fresh water. Everglades National Park receives less than half of the water it once did, and what’s left of the historic River of Grass will run dry if it doesn’t get more water soon.