Corps, SFWMD promote 2021 plan for EAA reservoir

OKEECHOBEE — An Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir will be built, say Florida officials.

“The issue is not if we will have additional southern storage, it is when and where,” Florida Senate President Joe Negron wrote in a memo after visiting Washington D.C. in early March. Senator Negron is pushing a plan to buy 60,000 acres of farmland in the EAA by the end of 2017 for a reservoir.

In State Senate hearings earlier this year, SFWMD officials stated the proposed 60,000-acre purchase is not needed. About 25 percent of the EAA land is already owned by the government. Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) plans call for the EAA reservoir project to start in 2021.

In a March 14 media conference, Col. Jason Kirk of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District said the Corps remains committed to following the project sequence outlined in the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS).

“We have a strong partnership with the South Florida Water Management District and the state of Florida,” said Col. Kirk. “The IDS was developed through public dialogue and discussion between the partners in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program. It is the optimal sequence of restoration activities.”

SFWMD was quick to agree with Col. Kirk.

“Heard. Understood. Acknowledged. And Appreciated. The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board is extremely grateful for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reiteration today (March 14) of its commitment to the Everglades restoration partnership and schedule of projects known as the Integrated Delivery Schedule,” said SFWMD Chairman Dan O’Keefe. “The Corps’ approach is the logical way to restore the Everglades. Attempting to allocate billions of dollars to a single project, outside of the publicly vetted and approved IDS sequence, would set restoration efforts back and provide more uncertainty for currently requested funding. The Corps and SFWMD Governing Board are maintaining their commitment to begin the study of an Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir in 2021, the timeframe set by the IDS. Built on science, the Everglades restoration plan and its timeline to complete projects is the right strategy to get the job done.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to restore and preserve what remains of the Florida Everglades. Less than half of the original “River of Grass” remains.

The 1948 Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District project set aside about 26 percent of the Everglades for the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Coastal development also took a share of the Everglades.

To save the remaining Everglades ecosystem, CERP was authorized by Congress in 2000. CERP includes 68 projects.

Corps and SFWMD officials agree that for the plan to work to optimal levels, those projects need to be done in a certain order. That order is the IDS*.

According to the SFWMD website, “The Integrated Delivery Schedule provides the sequencing strategy for planning, designing and constructing federal projects cost-shared with local sponsors as part of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program, based on ecosystem needs, benefits, costs and available funding.”

The plan is reviewed regularly — most recently in December 2016 — and some adjustments are made, often to reflect delays due to funding shortfalls. The order of the projects has to do with the way water flows, the need to create flowage paths and establishment of treatment areas to clean water before it moves into environmentally-sensitive areas.

For example, before an EAA reservoir could be used to store water, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) must be completed to restore the water flow from the lake. CEPP was approved by Congress last year.

And before water from an EAA reservoir can flow to Florida Bay, a portion of the Tamiami Trail must be raised to let more water sheetflow south from the water conservation areas. Allowing water to sheetflow slowly over marshes is important because this is the natural process to clean the water of excess nutrients.

The way the projects interact was taken into consideration when the IDS was established.

The IDS also takes into consideration some projects that are not part of CERP, but do have an effect on the CERP projects. For example, rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is not a CERP project. The work on the dike is federally funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a Dam Safety project. Any changes to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule depend on the completion of the dike work.

The Kissimmee River Restoration, which is expected to help slow the flow of water from the Kissimmee River basin into Lake Okeechobee, is also not part of CERP. The river restoration is a 50-50 partnership with the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is currently projected to be completed in 2019.

*The Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS), is thought to be the most beneficial order in which to do the approved projects.

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