WERP to restore flow and water levels in Big Cypress Preserve

BIG CYPRESS PRESERVE — The Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP) is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

The Army Corps of Engineers is the federal sponsor. SFWMD is the local sponsor.

At the Oct. 25, 2018 Big Cypress Basin Board meeting, Jennifer Leeds, SFWMD section administrator, said the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, are the sponsoring agencies for the state and federal government. CERP projects have a 50/50 cost share. The target date for approval of WERP is 2020 so the plan can go to Congress for congressional authorization. Once the project is authorized, they will move forward into the appropriations process through a Water Resources Development Act. Congress can authorize WRDA funding every two years, but does not always do so. The last WRDA was in 2018.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/SFWMD
The Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP), part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) will restore flow to areas of the western Everglades, according to information shared in October at a meeting of the Big Cypress Basin board.

The project planning area is very large, it’s 1200 square miles — roughly the same size as the state or Rhode Island, Ms. Leeds explained.

It covers many different watershed areas. Historically, the area was mostly wetlands, but now it is a mix of natural land, wetland, agriculture with private property, state-owned property and tribal reservation.

She said the WERP objectives are:
• Restore the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of freshwater to improve season hydroperiods and historic distributions of sheet flow;
• Re-establish ecological connectivity and ecological resilience of the historic wetland/upland mosaic;
• Restore water levels to reduce wildfires associated with altered hydrology;
• Improve water quality conditions;
• Promote system-side resilience and improve system-wide operational flexibility.

In some areas, they plan to backfill canals or put in structures to restore or improve sheetflow. The project is also designed to raise water levels and extending hydroperiods in Big Cypress National Preserve, Ms. Leeds explained.

There are about 150 existing structures that may be in the affected areas. About 80 of these structures are home sites. Possible flood protection mitigation strategies include raising structures, adding berms and pumped systems, obtaining flowage easements and acquisition of lands.. She said as they choose the final alternative, they are trying to minimize the need to acquire private land.

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