FDEP order considered a ‘turning point’ for EAA reservoir project

OKEECHOBEE — The long awaited Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project moved closer to realization on March 5, when a Secretarial order was signed by Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.

This project was the subject of Senate Bill 10 (2017), Audubon Florida’s top legislative priority last year.

During the development of the project, which occurred on a speedy time frame in line with SB 10 (2017), uncertainty about water quality impacts became a central issue, according to Audubon officials.

“The order clearly states that the reservoir project will be operated to ensure water quality standards are met and lays out options for additional water treatment measures if needed,” according to Audubon Florida.

“This Secretarial Order demonstrates Florida’s commitment to ensuring that the EAA Reservoir’s benefits in storing and moving water south will not come at the expense of water quality protections,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director. “Today marks a turning point for this important project.”

A report by the South Florida Water Management District that seeks to amend the Central Everglades Planning Project to include the reservoir component is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by March 30, 2018. CEPP, which was already approved by Congress, includes increased water conveyance south from Lake Okeechobee, and increased flow under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park. The EAA reservoir will be built as part of CEPP. Without the other CEPP components, the EAA reservoir would be static storage. Dynamic storage, which increases the flow south has been deemed critical to the environmental future of Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, according to water managers and Audubon officials.

Army Corps officials will review whether the plan complies with federal law before submitting to Congress for authorization.

Congressional authorization is necessary to make the project eligible for federal funding.

The DEP order states:

“The proposed plan also provides flexibility in Lake Okeechobee operations by increasing storage, treatment and conveyance to the south, which will reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries. The principle features of Alternative C240A are a 10,500-acre reservoir, approximately 23 feet deep (240,000 acre feet); a 6,500 acre Stormwater Treatment Area (STA); and conveyance improvements to the Miami and North New River Canals within the Everglades Agricultural Area. Alternative C240A will significantly increase CEPP flows to the central portion of the Everglades from an average annual flow of approximately 210,000 acre-feet to an average annual flow of approximately 370,000 acre-feet. “Alternative C240A is a modification of CEPP. On April 10, 2014, the department issued its approval of CEPP pursuant to Sections 373 .026(8)(b) and 373.1501(9), F.S. 3.

“The purpose of the review procedure is to ensure the State of Florida, at a preliminary stage in the process, is sufficiently familiar and comfortable with the project to allow the district to continue pursuing the project through the remaining state and federal processes.

Therefore, before the district submits any project component to Congress for authorization or receives an appropriation of state funds, the department is required to review the project component in accordance with Section 373.026(8)(b), F.S. This review process does not supercede, nor is a substitute for, any department permitting action regarding the project.

“In issuing this Order, the department finds that the district has provided sufficient information to demonstrate compliance with the criteria outlined in Section 373.1501(5), F.S., for the amendments to CEPP as set forth in Alternative C240A.”

The order further states, “… the department concludes that the district has met their requirements set forth in Section 373.1501(5)(a), F.S. The district has analyzed and evaluated the project such that all needs will be met in a comprehensive manner and that all applicable water resource issues have been adequately considered, including water supply, water quality, flood protection, threatened and endangered species, and other natural system and habitat needs.”

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