Federal funding for EAA reservoir could be delayed

OKEECHOBEE — Plans for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee could face funding delays.

While the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army (Civil Works) R.D. James found the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir plan feasible, the review assessment submitted to the Office of Management and Budget also placed some conditions for implementation.

“I have determined that the project identified in the Integrated Feasibility Study and DRAFT Environmental Impact Statement is feasible and fully recognize the importance of this project to the restoration of the Everglades system,” Assistant Secretary James wrote to South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on May 30.

“I have simultaneously submitted my Review Assessment to the Office of Management and Budget for clearance to submit to Congress. My staff will keep you regularly informed of our progress to complete the clearance process and submit your study to Congress,” he stated.

The 86-page, “Review Assessment of the SFWMD Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) Post Authorization Change Report, Integrated Feasibility Study and Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” identified “several technical, policy, and legal concerns.”

“From the geotechnical engineering perspective, a more robust design may be required to address all potential failure modes. The timing and ultimate delivery of project benefits will be dependent on the State of Florida demonstrating compliance with water quality standards set forth in court rulings and agreed to by project stakeholders. The Jacksonville District is currently undertaking the federal responsibilities associated with preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the SFWMD’s tentatively recommended plan.

Until these issues are addressed, project benefits might not be achieved as described in the 203 study,” the executive summary states.

The report questions if the “additional flows of water diverted from the Northern Estuaries are essential to the restoration of the Central Everglades.” In a June 1 letter to Assistant Secretary James, SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Federico E. Fernandez and Mr. Marks, expressed concerns that “USACE Headquarters staff have laid the foundation for delay and avoidance of federal cost share. Despite congressional willingness to cost share with the State of Florida, the review assessment reveals evidence that USACE staff seek opportunities to walk away from 18 years of congressional commitment to restore America’s Everglades.”

In response to the question of whether or not diverting lake flow now going to the coastal areas south, the water managers wrote, “Water wasted to tide in the Northern Estuaries is THE water needed to restore the Quantity, Quality, Timing and Distribution of water within the Everglades system.

“We remain concerned the process will take too long to provide relief, especially considering the requirement to complete further validation reports. If not guided carefully by leaders such as yourself, the additional third step of a validation report could paralyze progress.

“Florida’s economy depends on vibrant and healthy Northern Estuaries, restoration of America’s Everglades and a federal commitment to the same. To that end, the State of Florida will continue to seek that Congress direct the federal government to cost share this important restoration project,” they wrote.

The proposed EAA reservoir will hold 240,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one foot of land, 1 foot deep.

On the same day SFWMD officials sent the response letter, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began releases to the C-44 canal at Port Mayaca and the Franklin Lock at Moore Haven to attempt to offset some of the heavy flow entering Lake Okeechobee from northern runoff.

Over the past seven days, flow into the lake has ranged from 4,976 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 7.293 cfs. Flow from the lake into the C-44 canal at Port Mayaca has ranged from 794 cfs to 1,309 cfs. Flow into the Caloosahatchee River at Moore Haven has ranged from 1,526 cfs to 3,996 cfs. In the last week, the lake level has risen from 14.14 ft to 14.22 ft. No water from the lake has been released south. South of the lake, all of the water conservation areas (WCAs) are a foot above regulation schedule or higher. Flow south under the Tamiami Trail has averaged around 1,000 cfs. Two of the S-12 water control structures which could send more water south are closed in order to protect the nesting ground of the endangered Cape Sable Sea Sparrow.

Some algae blooms have been reported on the lake. Algae blooms are common on the lake during the summer and are part of the natural ecosystem. Under certain conditions, algae blooms can release toxins.

• On May 9, an algae bloom was reported near the Pahokee marina. Florida Department of Environmental Protection sampled the bloom. No toxins were detected.

• On June 4, a small algae bloom was reported near Port Mayaca. FDEP took samples. No toxins were detected.

• On June 6, algae was reported at Oceanfront Park Beach in Palm Beach.

• On June 6, algae was also reported in the St. Lucie Canal.

• On June 6, algae was reported in the C-24 Canal in St. Lucie County.

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