Increased flow under Tamiami Trail helps Everglades, but won’t move Lake Okeechobee water south

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will raise the water level in the L-29 Canal (along the Tamiami Trail) and will move more water under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park, but don’t expect water from Lake Okeechobee to flow south anytime soon.

The Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) north of the Tamiamai Trail are all above their regulation schedules. Moving more water under the Tamiamai Trail will help the WCAs, but is unlikely to free up enough capacity in the WCAs to take water from the Big O.

According to a USACOE press release, on July 1, the corps raised the maximum allowable level in the L-29 Canal to elevation 8.0 feet, a 0.5-foot increase from its current level. Raising the water level in this canal will increase flows under the 1-mile Tamiami Trail bridge built by the corps and make it possible to move more water from Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3) which sits north of the canal.

“This is a significant accomplishment that has been years in the making,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District commander. “We have wanted to raise this water level since heavy rains affected South Florida in late May, but we recognized that we needed to progress further on construction of key features along the eastern edge of Everglades National Park. We are happy to report that construction is now far enough along that we can operate these features in a manner that provides benefits to nearby property owners while we concurrently finish the remaining work on this project.”

The corps has finished the most critical components of the North Detention Area of the C-111 South Dade project in Miami-Dade County. This project and others in the area help manage seepage for nearby property owners that could result from the increased flows into the park.

The corps has also taken additional action over the weekend to address water levels in WCA-3. The corps is implementing deviations in operations that allows for higher water levels in WCA-2A for the rest of summer and the first half of fall. The dry-season recession will start in November and take place over six months instead of the normal four months.

“Storing more water in Conservation Area 2 helps reduce inflows into Conservation Area 3,” said Col. Kirk. “As we work to improve outflows from Conservation Area 3, the reduced inflows set conditions that a recession in the water level could take place, creating some additional storage for future wet season rains.”

This deviation is similar to one USACOE implemented in 2017, when faced with similar high water conditions. Additionally, the corps approved a deviation that allows for the opening of the S-344 structure to move more water out of WCA-3.

The stage in Water Conservation Area 3A was 10.91 feet on July 3, a foot and a half above the 9.31-foot level called for in the water management plan.

The corps has been coordinating with tribal, state and other federal agencies to minimize the impact of these operational adjustments to nearby communities. These agencies include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Everglades National Park.

“We are finally doing exactly what Everglades restoration envisioned,” said Celeste De Palma, director of Everglades policy at Audubon Florida. “High water events in South Florida are testing water managers’ ability to move water yet again. The move to flow more water under the Tamiami Trail bridge will give water managers even more flexibility to provide relief to the bloated Water Conservation Areas to the north and puts water back into the northeast corner of Everglades National Park without putting all of the burden on sensitive upland wildlife habitat for species like the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. It is so great to see Everglades restoration projects work as intended.

“Pushing water away is the old way of doing business in Florida; that’s why Everglades restoration focuses on recapturing water, cleaning it, and rerouting it to mimic the historic freshwater flows that support our ecosystems and our way of life in the Sunshine State. It’s all about putting the watershed back in equilibrium,” concluded Ms. De Palma.

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