EAA storage reservoir plan to send clean water to the Everglades

ORLANDO — The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) at its Governing Board meeting Thursday unveiled a cost-effective alternative that optimizes the benefits of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir. SFWMD’s team of modelers, professional engineers, scientists, planners and water managers worked to optimize the two best buy alternatives presented to the SFWMD Governing Board, Florida House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee and Florida Senate Appropriations Committee in January.

“When Executive Director Ernie Marks presented reservoir alternatives to the Senate Committee on Appropriations last month, I encouraged the district to work harder to further reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee that have done so much damage to our Caloosahatchee Estuary,” said State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

“The plan released today moves us closer to that goal by reducing discharges by 40 percent. While there is still work to be done, I am proud of the work the state and the district are doing to move forward on projects that will continue to reduce harmful discharges to Southwest Florida.”

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. The district is committed to delivering the environmental benefits of this project. 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 project will also reduce the number of discharge events from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries, when used in conjunction with authorized projects, by 63 percent.

“In 2017, the Florida Legislature very clearly told SFWMD they wanted a project that reduces the volume of damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries while providing additional water storage, treatment and conveyance south to the Everglades,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O’Keefe. “Water managers delivered that and more with this proposal. After the peer review is completed, SFWMD looks forward to delivering this beneficial project to the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for the U.S. Army Civil Works to ensure federal partnership and congressional approval.”

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

Alternative C240A improves upon the previously reported percentages aimed at restoring the resiliency of the northern estuaries by reducing the number, duration and frequency of harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee. This alternative:

• 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.

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

The process of planning for the reservoir began as Senate Bill 10. Early last year, the bill was authorized by the Florida Legislature in an effort led by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. A progress report on SFWMD’s findings regarding all of the project alternatives, including benefits and estimated costs, was sent to the Legislature in January in accordance with state law.

A Post Authorization Change Report that will describe the most cost-effective alternative for this project as the next increment of the congressionally approved Central Everglades Planning Project will be sent to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for federal review, approval and cost sharing in March 2018.

The Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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