EAA reservoir modeling shows promise

OKEECHOBEE — Computer modeling for a storage reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area show all of the alternatives under consideration would reduce harmful discharges from the lake to the coastal estuaries as well as improve flow to the Everglades and Florida Bay, according to information presented at a meeting at the South Florida Water Management District office in West Palm Beach on Dec. 21.

Eva Velez, SFWMD Director of Everglades Policy, said the district is very encouraged about the project work so far.

“When we began this project, our starting point was the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which was authorized by Congress in 2016,” explained Ms. Velez. “That gave us the features to open up the southern part of our system so that we can create more marsh flow in the Everglades.

“The EAA reservoir project is the next increment of storage, of water quality treatment and of conveyance, to reduce the harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee estuaries,” she said.

She said SFWMD said they are also continuing to work on more storage, north, east and west.

“We want to balance the needs of the natural system while we continue to live and work here,” she said.

“At times the topic of land and whether enough is available has dominated this discussion, Ms. Velez continued. “Our team has used every tool available to use under state law,” she said.

“The majority of the landowners in the EAA have notified us of an unwillingness to sell,” said Ms. Velez. Some landowners have not responded to SFWMD inquiries. Should more land become available, the SFWMD will consider how to use it effectively, she added.

“But meanwhile, we have developed an effective and workable plan. I’m pleased to report that the district’s technical work is very encouraging,” she said. “In conjunction with other authorized operation projects, this project could reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries by up to 54 percent from the existing conditions.

“Each alternative can achieve the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) goal of 98 billion gallons of clean fresh water to the Everglades,” she added.

Matt Morrison, of SFWMD, said the next milestone in the EAA reservoir timeline is Jan. 9, when SFWMD will update the Florida State Legislature about the findings to date. “Around Jan. 22, we hope to have a draft of the post authorization change report. Following that, we will be submitting that report to the Assistant Secretary of the Army in Washington, D.C., for consideration in the CERP program,”

He said the EAA reservoir project objectives are:

• Reduce the high-volume freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern estuaries;

• Identify storage, treatment and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee to improve flows to the Everglades system; and,

• Reduce the ongoing ecological damage to the Northern Estuaries and Everglades system.
SFWMD is currently reviewing several alternatives using property already in state ownership.

Each of these alternatives would be considered a change to the plans for the CEPP. Capital Cost to implement CEPP without any of the EAA reservoir alternatives is $1.02 billion.

• Alternative R240A: This alternative would store 240,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 10,100-acre reservoir on the eastern side of the A-2 parcel and a 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area (STA) on the western side of the A-2 parcel. This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging discharges to coastal estuaries by 50 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.42 billion.

• Alternative R240B: This alternative would store 240,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 10,100-acre reservoir on the western side of the A-2 parcel and a 6,500-acre STA on the eastern side of the parcel. This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries by 50 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.44 billion.

• Alternative R360C: This alternative would store 360,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 19,700-acre reservoir on the eastern side of the A-2 parcel and the entire A-1 parcel. It would use 11,500 acres on the western side of the A-2 parcel for an STA to properly treat stormwater to meet state water quality standards. This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries by 52 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.89 billion.

• Alternative R360D: This alternative would store 360,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 19,700-acre reservoir on the entire A-2 parcel and the northern portion of the A-1 parcel, while using the southern portion of the A-1 parcel for an 11,500-acre STA. This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging estuary discharges to the coastal estuaries by 52 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.95 billion.

• Alternative C360C: This alternative would have the same benefits as Alternative R360C, as well as all the benefits contained in CERP. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.89 billion.

Each of the alternatives has been run through computer modeling explained Walter Wilcox of SFWMD. He said the new components will work with the New River Canal and the Miami Canal. He said of the alternatives are capable of capturing and treating water and sending it south to the Everglades. All of the alternatives also improve salinity conditions in the estuaries, he said.

“We would see a lot less events where there is lake water reaching the estuaries,” he said. ”We would see those events shorter in duration.”

In dry conditions, water from the reservoir could be used for local water users, reducing the amount of water taken from Lake Okeechobee, he explained.

Dr. Susan Gray said the alternatives all show ecological benefits to the coastal estuaries, the Everglades and Florida Bay.

Mr. Morrison said SFWMD will present a report to the Florida Legislature by Jan. 8, 2018 that will summarize the work to date.

While the SFWMD alternatives presented were limited, as required by SB-10, to land currently available, the public comments period again brought up the desire by some groups to push for a project with a larger footprint.

“Ten years ago, a 25-square mile reservoir, the largest of its kind in the world, was under construction in the EAA. The environmentalists sued to stop its construction, the head of the Everglades Trust, calling it ‘not needed’ and ‘too expensive.’ This action delayed Everglades restoration for a solid decade,” said J.P. Sasser, former mayor of Pahokee. “This year Senate Bill 10 has passed with a bipartisan effort and the head of the Everglades Foundation heaped praise on what he called this ‘science-based bill and Governor Scott’s commitment to the Everglades.’ At the same time, Everglades Foundation released their paid attack dogs, Everglades Trust and BullSugar to attack the bill, the governor, SFWMD and the Army Corps of Engineers. So here we are, once again, on the verge of actually constructing a southern reservoir, and on cue, the environmentalists are trying to derail the agreed-upon process and timeline in Senate Bill 10. It’s deja-vu all over again. Before the ink was dried on SB10, they were demanding more land, revealing their true reason for existing which has nothing to do with restoration and water and everything to do with their personal vendetta against agriculture and killing our jobs for the Glades communities as collateral damage. One excuse they are using is the current planned reservoir in the EAA is too deep and they want to increase its footprint, but on their website they call the C-43 reservoir ‘critical to the success of CERP.’ The C-43 is deeper than the reservoir currently planned for the EAA.

Shame on them for their hypocrisy. Shame on them for once again attempting to derail restoration, and shame on them trying to take our land and our jobs.”

Newton Cook of United Water Fowlers pointed out that currently only 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) can move under the Tamiami Trail. He said until conveyance south under the trail is increased, that capacity won’t change. Over past year, there were times when 30,000 cfs was coming into Lake Okeechobee from the north, he added.

Without conveyance south to Florida Bay “the reservoir is going to sit there like a duck pond.”

Alex Gillen of the BullSugar Alliance criticized the format for the SFWMD meeting, which held public comment to the end. He complained that he had not been allowed to ask questions during the presentation. “In the future it would be really great if we could beef up the agendas and also publish the slides in advance,” he said.

“Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for sticking to the limitations of SB-10, and thank you for working with both sides of this issue and putting together a plan that will decrease the discharges and save some of our land,” said Janet Taylor, of Glades Lives Matter. She added that if anyone suggested buying more land in the EAA, she would have more to say.

“It’s extremely disheartening to hear that there is conversation and talk about additional lands being used for the building of the reservoir,” said Tammy Jackson-Moore of Guardians of the Glades.

Those in the Glades community have always known that this particular issue was merely a “land grab,” said Ms. Jackson-Moore.

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

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