Funding for CEPP clears Congress

OKEECHOBEE — The Water Resources Development Act, which includes $1.9 billion in funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), passed the United States House of Representatives by a vote of 399-25 on Sept. 28.

The Senate version of the bill passed Sept. 15 by a vote of 95-3.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Central Everglades Planning Project will identify and plan for projects on land already in public ownership to allow more water to be directed south to the central Everglades, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

Allowing more water to flow south will help reduce the amount of water that has to be released to the east and west coasts. Releases of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee have been blamed for contributing to toxic algal blooms in the coastal estuaries.

“With Congressman Tom Rooney’s continued stewardship, we have seen significant progress toward restoring the Everglades,” said South Florida Water Management District Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Approval of the federal water bill by the full Congress, followed by appropriating funding, is vital to complete the Central Everglades Planning Project.”

The bill received widespread support from agricultural industries and environmentalists.

“The Farm Bureau believes having an efficient and reliable inland waterway system linked to competitive ports is vital to America’s ability to provide affordable agricultural products domestically and to compete internationally.

Passing the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 will contribute to U.S. economic growth, jobs and global competitiveness for generations to come,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“The Water Resources Development Act of 2016 is essential to continue the important water quality improvement projects related to Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration,” said John Hoblick, President of the Florida Farm Bureau.” The State of Florida needs the federal government to step up and shoulder their responsibility in the 50/50 commitment to restore the remnant Everglades. Additionally, farmers, ranchers, and communities south of the lake deserve to feel safe and secure in their homes. Only a fully repaired Herbert Hoover Dike can accomplish this and this year’s WRDA is a step in the right direction.”

The Water Resources Development Act is also supported by more than 60 member organizations of the Everglades Coalition.

CEPP is a component of the Central Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

In addition to CEPP, the broader water bill also includes other projects important to Florida, such as:

• Port Everglades dredging – the bill authorizes $322.7 million to deepen the main shipping channels at Port Everglades from 42 feet to 48 feet.

• Flagler County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project – the bill authorizes a $30.78 million beach renourishment project that will extend an existing dune in central Flagler Beach 2.6 miles to help protect State Road A1A, which is the only north-south hurricane evacuation route for communities along the coast.

• Picayune Strand Restoration Project – the bill authorizes an additional $113 million for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project to fund new features and improvements to the original design. This amount is on top of the funds originally approved in 2007, bringing the project’s total authorized cost to $618 million.

• Daytona Beach Flood Protection project – the bill authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study for the Daytona Beach Flood Protection project.

In other lake news …

OKEECHOBEE — Storing water north of Lake Okeechobee, and cleaning the water before it enters the lake, are part of a proposed plan that could reduce harmful lake releases to the east and west.

The proposed Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWP) has the potential to reduce not just the number of months per year in which excess Lake Okeechobee water would be released to the coastal estuaries, but also to reduce the number of years in which any high discharge months occur, according to data presented at the LOWP delivery team online meeting held Sept. 21.

LOWP could use a combination of storm water treatment areas, reservoirs, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) and deep injection wells to clean and store water north of Lake Okeechobee.

The models, which were based on adding 250,000-acre feet of water storage north of the lake, used data from a broad range of years including years with little rain (in the 1970s), wet years (the 1990s) and hurricane years (2003-2005). According to the presentation, the LOWP projects could cut the number of months in which excess lake water would be released to the coasts by 50 percent, and reduce by almost 25 percent the number of years in which excess discharges would occur even within one month.

The models also showed the greater the water storage north of the lake, the less likely harmful discharges would be required to the east or west.

NOTE: Not all lake discharges are harmful. The Caloosahatchee River relies on water from Lake Okeechobee to prevent salt water intrusion during the dry season. Before the Caloosahatchee River was channelized, it was not unusual for the river to be shallow enough to wade across during the dry season, according to historical accounts.

In addition to reducing harmful releases to the coastal estuaries, water storage north of the Big O could benefit the lake itself and the water supply for South Florida during drought years.

Also last week, the 2016 Water Forum was held in Orlando, sponsored by Associated Industries of Florida. Some speakers at the Sept. 22 and 23 forum pointed out that releases from Lake Okeechobee are just one factor contributing to the algal blooms in the estuaries. While the freshwater from the lake lowers the salinity levels, much of the nutrient load problem is coming from the coastal watersheds.

“I don’t see that buying land south of the lake is going to have a big effect in the wet season,” said professor Brian Lapointe, of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Beach Oceanographic Institute.

Dr. Lapointe was part of the team that conducted the 2015 Watershed to Reef study in Martin County, which found pollution from septic tanks not only contributing to the excess nutrients in the lagoon, but also threatening the health of the ocean reefs.

“I think it’s very clear that every septic tank that gets connected to sewer is going to make a measurable improvement in quality,” Dr. LaPointe stated at the Water Forum.

Water Forum panel moderator former Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard agreed.

“What we have found is that we have thousands and thousands of wonderful, wonderful homes along that beautiful lagoon and they have these septic tanks,” he said. ”It’s because these very wealthy local governments failed to extend sewer lines to those homes. So now we’ve got a problem on the Indian River Lagoon.”

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

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