MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — When people stare across a 3,400-acre reservoir on a beautiful spring day, they suddenly see a glimpse of the future.
That future comes in the form of a geyser erupting in the new C-44 reservoir in western Martin County.
Soon the reservoir will be 15 feet deep, full of water and promise.
Buff Searcy, a construction engineer born and raised on the Treasure Coast, manages the C-44 project for the South Florida Water Management District.
"We can expect to see during this rainy season over the summer much cleaner water being delivered to the St. Lucie River," Searcy said.
The design of the $800 million state-federal project is straightforward — divert fertilizer-polluted water flowing east from Lake Okeechobee into the reservoir.
For years that fertilizer runoff from farms, ranches, urban and suburban sources have helped supercharge algae blooms that choke the environment and economy of the Treasure Coast.
Once the water runs through marshes and aquatic vegetation, it filters those nutrients out.
The clean water is then sent back into the C-44 canal on its journey through the St. Lucie Lock in Palm City and on to the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon.
"We are showing great reductions in phosphorous and nitrogen — the two primary nutrients that are being removed that cause the problems with the river and the algae blooms," Searcy said.
Along the St. Lucie River, Mary Radabaugh imagines better days ahead.
"We have lived here all our life," she said. "(The river) is our livelihood, being able to go out on the waters with your family, enjoying the weekends and beautiful times out there."
Radabaugh and her husband, Dutch, manage Apex Marina.
They have too many memories over the past decade of severe algae blooms threatening their health, home and jobs.
"Tourism is huge and if we don't have clean water, property values drop, tourism drops and our economy drops," Radabaugh said.
The C-44 reservoir project is part of a comeback effort that is a marriage between humans and nature to nurture the land and waterways for the benefit of both.
There is cautious optimism, often in short supply for years, on the long road to restoration for the Everglades, which is the giant watershed at the heart of South Florida's long-term health and survival.