Visit puts focus on fish passage and ecosystem restoration efforts
Date: Monday, June 27, 2022
STUART, Fla. — Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz was in Florida last week to highlight investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will facilitate the removal of barriers to fish passage and reopen access to miles of upstream habitat for fish and other animals. These efforts will support America the Beautiful, a decade-long challenge to pursue a locally led and voluntary, nationwide effort to conserve, connect and restore the lands, waters, and wildlife upon which we all depend.
On Thursday, Assistant Secretary Estenoz toured the Myakka River Down’s Dam Removal Project to spotlight a new $350,000 investment through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will open approximately 58 river miles so fish can move freely throughout the waterway. The project is one of three Bipartisan Infrastructure Law river restoration projects in Florida, totaling $600,000. The Myakka River Down’s Dam Removal project will benefit five federally listed mussels, Gulf sturgeon, and Florida manatee. Obsolete or poorly designed dams, culverts, stream crossings, and levees keep fish and other aquatic species from moving freely to feed, migrate and reproduce. These challenges put fish populations at risk and undermine the health of rivers.
With a total of $200 million in investments in the National Fish Passage Program over the next five years, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will bolster efforts to address outdated, unsafe or obsolete dams, culverts, levees and other barriers fragmenting our nation’s rivers and streams, which will help restore fish passages and aquatic connectivity.
On Friday, Assistant Secretary Estenoz joined Assistant Administrator for Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Radhika Fox on a visit to Big Cypress National Preserve, where National Park Service staff discussed the importance of restoring and protecting the Everglades, including the western Everglades. The leaders participated in a “swamp walk” to learn more about sensitive Preserve resources, including water quality, hydrology, habitat, air quality and cultural resources. The Interior Department and EPA are both represented on congressionally chartered South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.
Assistant Secretary Estenoz and Assistant Administrator Fox also met with staff from the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and local leaders at the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) to discuss water quality, habitat restoration, muck removal, monitoring and research, citizen engagement and capital construction. The IRL’s health has been declining for decades and reached an ecological tipping point following an unprecedented algal bloom in 2011. Since 2009, the IRL has experienced intense, recurring and long-lasting algal blooms that have killed off over 60,000 acres of seagrass (75% loss). Seagrass is the primary food for manatees, which have recently seen high levels of mortality due to starvation. Despite decades of funding by multiple local governments and state and federal agencies, seagrasses are currently at historic low levels, leading to last winter’s manatee experimental feeding program.