Western Everglades Restoration Project

For many years, the area known as the “Native Area” or the area west of the North Feeder and south of the West Feeder Canal has been the natural and cultural jewel for the Seminole Tribe. 

The Native Area and the lands to the south harbor much of the region’s wildlife and rich medicinal resources. The Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP) is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Planning project and a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) designed to help restore, reconnect and maintain these areas with the natural areas to the south. 

The project’s primary objective is to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water in the Western Everglades, including the Big Cypress Reservation’s Native Area. It is designed to re-establish sheet flow across this sensitive natural area and into the Big Cypress National Preserve while maintaining existing levels of flood protection and water quality standards. 

The Project study area encompasses the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation extending roughly from Lake Okeechobee to the Big Cypress National Preserve and covers approximately 1,200 square miles.

HERO technical staff has worked extensively with USACE staff to shape the current Tentatively Selected Plan called Alternative H. The major aspects of this project affecting the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation include:

Main Features of the Project Alternative H Supported by the Tribe:

  • HERO technical staff supports routing surface flows from natural areas/sloughs from northwest through Storm water Treatment Areas (STAs) and through Cypress polishing cells to produce “cypress-ready” water ultimately flowing into the “Native Area” on Reservation (south of the West Feeder Canal). Water Quality must be clearly shown to be equivalent to that in the “Native Area” before it will be allowed to be introduced into the “Native Area.” The intent of the restoration is to return the Native Area to its historic condition.

  • HERO technical staff supports plugging the North Feeder Canal to divert STA water east away from the Reservation (or other means of diverting flows around the Reservation).

  • HERO technical staff supports a Plug on L28 at USSO.

  • HERO technical staff has supported an option for a “gated” structure along the West Feeder Canal to further ensure the maintenance of existing surface water flows into the Reservation.

  • HERO ERMD staff supports an adaptive management plan to monitor and assess on-going STA outflow water quality status/trends in order to ensure that STA outflow water entering into the Native Area meets water quality standards as deemed acceptable to the Tribe. This plan must provide for a contingency to redirect STA outflow water away from the Reservation in the event STA outflow water does not meet water quality standards acceptable to the Tribe for the Native Area.

  • HERO technical staff understands that the Native Area currently receives some inflows from outside the Reservation. The Tribe will allow those flows to continue in WERP, to the extent they presently exist.

Conditional Aspects of the Project Alternative H Supported by the Tribe:

  • The project must maintain the Tribe’s Water Rights Entitlement.

  • The restoration of flows into Native Area cannot negatively impact Hunting Adventures and cultural areas.

  • Federal/State STAs must not be located within less than 1 mile from the Reservation (approximate).

  • The Tribe promotes the use of Real Property mechanisms to avoid any taking of tribally owned lands.

  • With the exception of the rehydration of the Native Area, the Tribe will not accept greater flood risks in terms of water levels, flow rates, frequencies, and duration on Big Cypress Reservation beyond what presently exists. 

  • HERO THPO is concerned that the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Area of Potential Effect (APE) for the WERP undertaking has not be adequately defined.

  • HERO THPO is concerned about potential impacts to cultural resources in the project APE such as, impacts to the Native Area, archaeological sites, burial locations, Seminole Camps, Seminole ceremonial grounds, medicinal plant gathering areas, and other traditional use areas. While the USACE and the HERO THPO are consulting on these issues, to date only the proposed location of a North Feeder STA has been investigated. A great deal of additional cultural resource investigations need to be completed The USACE has committed to completing this additional work in a Programmatic Agreement (PA) between the USACE, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Florida State Historic Preservation Office. The HERO THPO will need to continue to consult with the USACE and monitor their compliance with the PA.
  • Additionally, the HERO THPO expects the USACE to comply with the Burial Resources Agreement between the USACE Jacksonville District and the Tribe signed in 2015.

  • Finally, throughout the development of the ecological monitoring plan, HERO ERMD staff has consistently identified to the USACE Planning staff that the current approach to utilizing keystone species (i.e., American alligator and wood stork) as bio-indicators is an inappropriate representation of overall health of the habitats targeted for restoration. Furthermore, this approach is a particularly poor performance metric for assessing restoration success in forested wetland slough habitats within the Native Area. HERO ERMD has urged the USACE staff to incorporate a community-based "species of significance" approach in order to broaden the analysis to include a more holistic, community-based species performance metric assessment matrix. Furthermore, the Tribe advocates for a “bottom-up” approach for measuring and assessing restoration success that includes analyses of food webs. The overall assessment objective should include performance metrics that elucidate restoration success/failure to support healthy habitats replete with a diversity of species. HERO ERMD are developing a strategy to ensure this happens. 


This WERP project has been heavily negotiated by HERO staff to ensure that additional natural flows to help restore and maintain the Native Area and its resources will be provided. The Restoration must also ensure that the “new” offsite water coming into the Native Area must be from natural watershed areas and must be clearly shown to be equivalent to that in the “Native Area” before it will be allowed to be introduced into the “Native Area.” The end result of this hydroperiod restoration project will be a revitalized ecosystem that will reestablish the historical ecological connectivity and ecological resilience of this region.

It should be noted that Alternative H is not the final plan. The USACE planning process is an ongoing process and allows for pre-decisional government-to-government consultation that includes extensive community involvement and engagement through Tribal community and public meetings. The Tribe will always have a role in the decision making on these types of projects because the USACE is required to recognize the sovereign status of Tribal governments and their obligation for pre-decisional government-to-government consultation. The USACE is required to recognize the unique role Tribes play as partners in water resources projects and must seek to develop relationships with all Tribes who may need our assistance in the area of capacity building and self-determination. The USACE must work with HERO technical staff and the Tribal community to consider all potential effects of this project on natural and cultural resources.

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