Emergency Estuary Protection Wells proposed as temporary fix to lake releases

OKEECHOBEE — An emergency fix to harmful freshwater releases to the coastal estuaries could be built in just two to three years, while long-term solutions may be decades away.

“We are working on long-term solutions. We are working on projects such as C-43 and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration projects. Even on the most aggressive schedule, the EAA storage reservoir is years away,” said Jaime Weisinger, South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member, at the June 14 SFWMD governing board meeting.

“It is not going to be a silver bullet and it is not going to solve all of our problems.”

He said an emergency fix could be implemented in a 2-to-3 year time frame: “deep injection wells, or as I like to call them, Emergency Estuary Protection Wells.”

Deep injection wells send water through the earth into the Boulder Zone, in effect sending the water to tide by pumping it straight down.

District scientists estimate some of these deep injection wells could be ready in as little as 2-to-3 years using proven technology that is already being used in 250 parts of the state by utilities, he explained.

“The technology is proven. We have already looked at having anywhere from 30 to 150 of these Emergency Estuary Protection Wells. They would address some of the flows to the tune of about half a million to 2.5 million acre feet of water,” he continued.

“That’s a lot of water that wouldn’t end up in the Caloosahatchee estuary and on the beaches of Sanibel,” he said.

“Emergency Estuary Protection Wells would only have to be used in emergency situations, in our heavy rain situations like that, or like we had last year with Irma and the storms around Irma,” he said. They would only be used when the level of Lake Okeechobee is rising so rapidly that the Corps of Engineers has no choice but to release water east and west to the coastal estuaries.

“It wouldn’t compromise any of our other restoration projects,” he said. “While these larger restoration projects were being built, Emergency Estuary Protection Wells could take that discharge water from the lake and protect the estuaries.”

The wells could be used both as a stopgap measure and along with other restoration projects, as the district works on the long-term massive water storage projects.

“We’re only doing a pilot program right now,” said board member James Moran. “I think we should be full speed ahead on this.

“These deep injection wells need to be moved up to save the estuaries,” Mr. Moran said.

“Bureaucracy takes too long. We need to think outside the box.

“Let’s get the show on the road. Let’s get this done. If we had these wells today, we wouldn’t be dealing with the discharges,” said board member Brandon Tucker.

“Somebody was criticizing the use of those wells, and saying ‘it would just be wasting that water.’ To me it is just sending that water to tide without having to bomb the estuaries with harmful discharges,” said board member Daniel O’Keefe.

“We’re not in the business of ignoring the fact that water is a resource,” said board chairman Federico Fernandez.

Emergency Estuary Protection Wells would be a stopgap measure while work continued on other projects to send the excess water from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay.

“I think all of us here have been around long enough to know the effects of drought … no one is advocating for wasting water,” he said.

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