C-43 Reservoir update projects completion by 2022

LaBELLE — Hendry County commissioners learned at their regular meeting Jan. 22 where the huge project stands to build a Caloosahatchee River-cleansing reservoir, the C-43, in a presentation from South Florida Water Management District officials.

Libby Pigman, the SFWMD’s Glades representative, told the board that “I’m fortunate tonight to have Thomas McKernan with me, who is the guy that knows everything about that project.” He’s the principal construction manager for the work, which is ramping up, and explained that originally it was planned in the early 2000s. Bids were sought for it as a single construction project, but the plan was shelved in 2008.

Mr. McKernan said its purpose after the C-43 project had been revived in 2015 was to capture Caloosahatchee River basin runoff as well as Lake Okeechobee releases. High nutrient levels from them recently have been blamed for the blue-green algae blooms on the river in 2018. It also is meant to improve the timing and quantity of freshwater that goes to the estuary, he said.

“So in the wintertime when irrigation demands are high, we’ll release freshwater to keep those salinity levels where they need to be, and conversely during the summertime, we’ll take those flows … into the reservoir to try to control those salinity levels,” he explained. The other major purpose is to “maintain allocated water supply to the adjacent landowners, farmers to the east and north of us.” SFWMD is responsible for that since the adjacent landowners where the reservoir will sit, on former citrus grove land, depend on district-permitted water allocations that are still in effect.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/SFWMD Construction will be finished up by April on pump station S-476 in Hendry County

Situated about midway between Cape Coral and Moore Haven just south of the Caloosahatchee and State Road 80, sprawling 6 miles lengthwise east to west and 3 miles north to south, the C-43 Reservoir will hold between 15 and 25 feet of water over 10,500 acres, providing up to 170,000 acre-feet of water storage and holding more than 55 billion gallons.

It actually will consist of two reservoir cells with a central separator dam, surrounded by a roughly 19-mile-long perimeter dam. On the outside will be 15 miles of perimeter canal, and there will be 14 major water control structures, several pump stations, three bridges, improvements to the Townsend Canal on the western edge and, ultimately, a slew of new recreational facilities.

Mr. McKernan said the project was broken into parts to expedite the civil works portion, which is the last and biggest of four. Bids were sought beginning Nov. 16. Those bids are to be opened Jan. 30, with SFWMD Governing Board approval expected next month.

The first part, which was to take the old agricultural facilities off the site and improve drainage and irrigation for nearby landowners, was about an $11 million contract, completed in August 2017. Pre-load mounds were built with dredged materials about 400 feet square, toe to toe, and 56 feet high from the existing grade. Mr. McKernan showed a picture of one mound with a full-size SUV on top to give them an idea of the size, which is huge, and said there were four others to the west of that one.

Now under way is construction of irrigation pump station S-476 to replace existing structures that supply farmland. The $13 million project is scheduled for final completion in April. That pump will move 195 cubic feet of water per second (cfs).

“Package three is the main inflow pump station, 470, to pull water off the Calosahatchee down the Townsend and into the northwest portion of the reservoir,” he explained. “It’s a considerably larger than the previous one. This is 1,500-cfs pump; also, there will be a 300-foot microwave tower which will control the pump stations and all the other water control structures associated with this project.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
A map of the C-43 Reservoir.

“We’ll be making some Townsend Canal improvements and State Road 80 bridge armoring.” For this work, he said, the contract is close to $60 million, and SFWMD issued notice to proceed back in March 2018. He said they were looking to have it all completed in May 2022.

The last portion, Mr. McKernan explained, is “the civil works project where we’re actually constructing the dam itself and doing all the components associated with it.” He said the engineer’s estimate is $669 million for that work; they’ll find out what contractors’ range is next week.

Commissioner Karson Turner remarked that he would bet the total will be more than $800 million. He also had some effusive praise for Ms. Pigman, Mr. McKernan and SFWMD staff.

“You guys are doing an incredible job over there at the district. I serve on the Water Resources Advisory Commission, but I don’t envy your position right now. You guys are the big, bad bear in a lot of conversations, and just keep your head up and keep grinding, bud. Because … short of the Netherlands, I don’t who deals with more water than what y’all do in your district. It’s nothing short of amazing,” Commissioner Turner said.

Mr. McKernan further noted that all of the water control structures will be driven by the elevation stages on the waterways in an automated system that will send telemetry simultaneously to SFWMD offices in West Palm Beach while controlling the structures.

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