Seminoles oppose reservoir near reservation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Native American tribal representatives voiced opposition to part of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) during the Oct 29 South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force meeting in Washington, D.C.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report, LOWRP, part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), is designed to store water north of Lake Okeechobee, reduce harmful freshwater discharges to the coastal estuaries, restore or create wetlands and re-establish connections among natural areas that have become spatially and/or hydrologically fragmented.

In LOWRP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes a shallow (approximately 12,500 acres with water up to about 4 feet deep) Wetland Attenuation Feature (WAF) with a storage volume of approximately 43,000 acre-feet; 80 aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells with a storage volume of approximately 448,000 acre-feet per year; and two wetlands restoration sites along the Kissimmee River, Paradise Run and Kissimmee River Center.

All of the LOWRP projects are planned in Glades County, just off State Road 78, on the west side of the Kissimmee River.

At the Oct. 29 task force meeting, both the Seminole and the Miccosukee tribes voiced objections to the wetland attenuation feature (WAF).

“The Seminole tribe has objected to this project for a very long time,” said Patty Power, who was representing the Seminole Tribe at the meeting. “There are parts of the K-05, the wetland attenuation feature, that are within a mile of the reservation border. This feature has been adjusted to address some of the tribe’s concerns, and we appreciate that, but it is still a really big problem. It is too close, too much water.

“What we see as a risk is, if there is more pressure to increase storage in the future, this thing has a fairly good-sized berm around it. Why couldn’t we just put a whole lot more water in it than three feet? It will be a lot harder to try to stop that down the road than now. The tribe also has concerns about ASR (aquifer storage and recovery wells). We prefer to start the testing on that as far away as possible from the reservation. And also, that much more should be done until the National Academy of Sciences finishes their review, and then the core should file their recommendations.

“There’s nowhere in the world that this amount of ASR has been used in this spatial area. This is kind of an experiment in reality,” she said. “We are going to do everything we can to try to stop this wetland attenuation feature from being put in place. It is of no benefit to the tribe at all, but we see it as a significant threat.”

“My biggest concern with this plan is that it doesn’t address all of the different watersheds that go into Lake Okeechobee,” said Truman “Gene” Duncan, water resources director for the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida. “It probably ought to be better called the Indian Prairie restoration plan. From the water management district summary of five years’ worth of water quality data, the upper Kissimmee contributes 30% of the water to the lake and 15% of the phosphorus. I don’t see anything going on in the upper Kissimmee. The lower Kissimmee contributes 18% of the water and 17% of the phosphorus. I don’t see anything that addresses that. Taylor Creek, 7% of the water and 21% of the phosphorus. Fisheating Creek, 12% of the water, 12% of the phosphorus. To me, this plan is great if all we cared about was Indian Prairie. I respect the Seminoles don’t want a reservoir right next to the reservation which might flood them, but to me the biggest deficiency is, we don’t address the rest of the Kissimmee basin. This is all centered on the southwest corner. Good as far as it goes, but very disappointing to me.”

The shallow reservoir plan has also brought objections from property owners in the area who will lose their homes if the state decides to take their land by eminent domain. They also say the reservoir plan simply won’t hold wate, because they tried to impound water on their own land only to see the stored water disappear into the ground as the lake level declines.

“Seven generations of Pearces on the northwest shore of Lake Okeechobee can attest to that,” explained Matt Pearce. “There is a rock ridge just under ground that causes seepage. My family has seen it for years as the lake rises and falls in depth.”

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

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