EAA reservoir plan is ‘based on sound science’

OKEECHOBEE — State and federal water managers usually live in a world in which a “fast tracked” project has a three-year time line for the preliminary planning phase, and an indefinite waiting period for funding to be appropriated.

Last year the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 10, requiring the South Florida Water Management District to come up with a “ready to build” plan for a massive reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area in less than a year, using property already in state ownership, or property available from willing sellers. SB-10 also identified the state funding for the project, although federal funding will require Congressional appropriation.

The EAA reservoir plan continues to move forward, and while some critics still call for an even bigger plan, state senators, SFWMD staff and Audubon officials have expressed optimism that the long-awaited reservoir will be built, will increase the flow of freshwater to the Everglades and will decrease the need to send freshwater east and west to tide.

“It (the timeline for the EAA Storage Reservoir) was aggressive for a reason, because we wanted to see action and I think we are seeing action,” said Florida State Senator Rob Bradley at a Jan. 18 hearing.

“Some suggest we should not proceed with this project and should instead push for a larger reservoir that would require significantly more land and money which means more time in addition to more land and money,” he continued.

“There isn’t a CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) project that has been studied more than the EAA Reservoir. It is foolish to wait for something that might happen decades from now in the meantime allowing damage to our estuaries and coastal communities when we have a project today that will make a significant difference.”

The optimized plan is based on sound science, said Randy Smith of the South Florida Water Management District. “We have all confidence that this is going to work.”

The plan has sufficient water treatment areas to clean the water before it goes to Everglades National Park, he said.

“We carved out the water treatment first, and then designed the reservoir around that,” he explained.

The optimized plan has gone to an independent review panel.

“We are anxiously awaiting their feedback before it goes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” he said.

The deadline for submission of the final plan to the Corps is March 30.

“If you look at this project in terms of the long-term plan for the long-term Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, it fits in well,” he said.

The water quality standards for water entering Everglades National Park are not optional — it’s the law. According to the SFWMD, the additional flows to the Everglades will be protected by rule or reservation and achieve state water quality standards to comply with state and federal laws.

The EAA reservoir is one piece of the puzzle. The Comprehensive Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) is key to increasing the capacity to convey water from Lake Okeechobee to the reservoir and from the water treatment areas to Everglades National Park.

Florida Audubon has expressed some optimism about the optimized plan.

“I’ve been following up on the process and I can share with you that the optimized benefits are actually really good, but there is still some more work ahead to be able to deliver those benefits once the project gets built,” said Celeste De Palma, Everglades Policy Associate with Audubon Florida.

“Building the project is the ‘easiest’ part of restoration,” she explained. “Learning how to operate it once you turn the project on is the challenging part and there is room to improve upon the benefits through operations.”

On Jan. 9, SFWMD presented alternatives to the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee, meeting the timeline required by SB-10. SFWMD’s team of modelers, professional engineers, scientists, planners and water managers then worked to optimize the two most cost effective alternatives, deemed the “best buys.”

On Feb. 8, SFWMD unveiled the optimized EAA Storage Reservoir Plan. Optimized Alternative C240A, unveiled to the public at SFWMD’s Governing Board meeting in Orlando, borrows aspects of the previous five alternatives and combines them into a project that will meet one of the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) by sending an annual average of approximately 300,000 more acre-feet of clean water south to the Everglades.

According to SFWMD modeling, the project will reduce the number of discharge events from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries, when used in conjunction with authorized projects, by 63 percent.

According to the SFWMD, Alternative C240A would meet state water quality standards by utilizing a new 6,500-acre Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) in combination with existing STAs and Flow Equalization Basins (FEBs), such as the A-1 FEB. The new reservoir would store 240,000 acre-feet of water on the 10,100-acre site comprised of the district-owned A-2 parcel and lands to the west as identified in Senate Bill 10. C240A will work in conjunction with Gov. Rick Scott’s Restoration Strategies for a total of 350,000 acre-feet of above-ground storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

This optimized alternative will cost approximately $1.34 billion to build in addition to the costs already included in the congressionally authorized Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).

According to SFWMD, the optimized plan:

• Achieves a 63 percent reduction in the number of discharge events from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries, in conjunction with authorized projects;

• Achieves a 55 percent reduction in discharge volumes from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries, in conjunction with authorized projects;

• Achieves a 55 percent reduction in high-flow discharge events lasting more than 42 days to the St. Lucie Estuary, in addition to the benefits provided by CEPP;

• Achieves a 40 percent reduction in high-flow discharge events lasting more than 60 days to the Caloosahatchee Estuary, in addition to the benefits provided by CEPP; and,

• Sends an annual average of more than approximately 300,000 acre-feet of water south to the Everglades.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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