Glades County sites deemed optimal for water storage

OKEECHOBEE — Why are all of the reservoir options under consideration for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan in Glades County?

The evaluation of all of the options for citing reservoirs found in the area west of the Kissimmee River and north of the lake is the ideal area, according to Matt Morrison, South Florida Water Management District Federal Policy Chief, Everglades Policy & Coordination.

He said the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects already include water storage south, east and west, and always planned to include storage north of the lake.

During the LOWRP planning process they looked at the options for storage throughout the area north.

A critical component to water storage is access to water to store.

Mr. Morrison said some of the areas north of Lake Okeechobee they looked at had “flashes” of high volume water, but are dry for parts of the year.

The reservoirs making the cut for the four alternatives have access to water sources year round.

“We focused on areas where if we were to make that investment, the facilities will be used robustly,” he explained.

“It doesn’t make sense to spend billions of dollars to build infrastructure and not use it all the time,” he said.

The four alternatives currently under consideration use one or more of three reservoir options in Glades County, which have been designated K-42, K-05 North and K-05 South.

“K-05 North and K-05 South perform more robustly than K-42,” he said. (Map below explains their locations.)

The idea is to pump water from the river into the reservoir during wet periods, and store the water in the reservoir until needed. In dry periods, the water would be released by gravity flow into wetlands which would flow back into the river and/or the lake.

“The K-05 North and South reservoirs provide the most opportunity. That’s the driving factor,” he said.

While land prices in rural Glades County are lower than elsewhere in the district, that was not a factor in the decision, said Mr. Morrison.

He said the computer modeling shows that the K-05 North and South reservoirs perform more robustly than the K-42 option.

“The need for storage north of the lake is well documented,” he said.

While the federal project is not a water quality project, Mr. Morrison said the state is looking for opportunities to use the LOWRP projects to improve water quality. Running the water through wetlands before it goes into the lake will help remove excess nutrients from the water naturally.

At the July 27 LOWRP meeting, Glades County officials and property owners expressed concerns about economic impact, water quality and public safety.

“I understand the concerns,” said Mr. Morrison.

He said there is a long way to go before the project construction will begin.

“It’s probably many years out,” he said.

The earliest it might be considered for federal funding is 2020, and that is only if the federal government has a Water Resources bill that year — in the past, Congress has gone as long as seven years without funding any water projects.

If the project is approved and funded, it will create jobs in Glades County both during construction and also for longterm maintenance, he said.

In addition, the wetlands will create opportunities for public recreation for bird and wildlife viewing and fishing.

Improving the hydrology of the area and restoring historic wetlands should improve the numbers of birds, reptiles and fish in those areas, he said.

Once the final recommendation is approved, land acquisition timing will depend on funding.

SFWMD sometimes purchases land in advance of federal funding, especially in the case of a willing seller. In those cases, SFWMD usually leases the property back to the owner until it is needed for the project. If the original owner does not want to lease the land, the lease is put up for public bids.

Mr. Morrison said he realizes the uncertainty of the LOWRP plans is difficult for property owners.

“I suggest they continue living their lives and doing what they do,” he said. “If they have plans to develop their property, that’s their prerogative.”

Even after the reservoir alternative is chosen, the plans might change a bit, he said. He said they will have to investigate the sites for hazards such as old dipping vats, which may have contaminated the soil, or areas where pesticides or herbicides were used. They will also have to take cultural sites such as Indian burial mounds into consideration.

“We will go through site optimization,” he said, which will try to optimize both the location and the design of the reservoir or reservoirs.

In addition, they will consider infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railroad tracks and cell towers.

Initial plans call for above-ground reservoirs an average of 15-feet deep. He said they do not plan to do any excavation; the water will be stored above ground.

The safety of those living south of the reservoir or reservoirs will also be a consideration and factored into the designs, he said.

“All of that will be accounted for,” he said.

He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes public safety seriously, as evidenced by the billions of dollars being spent on the Herbert Hoover Dike work.

Mr. Morrison said other restoration and water quality projects are already planned or underway in other counties in the district.

“There are improvements in the upper basin,” he said. For example, the Kissimmee River Restoration will restore 44 miles of the historic 103-mile winding river. Pushing water back into the old oxbows in sections of the river will cause the water to spread out into the thousands of acres of wetlands, restoring 40 square miles of floodplain. That project is currently projected to be completed in 2020.

Along with the river restoration, the lake regulation schedules for the Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes will be re-evaluated in order to hold more water in those lakes, Mr. Morrison said. That will also slow the flow of water down the river into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season.

The Lakeside Ranch STA in Martin County will capture water from the Taylor Creek/Nubbin Slough watershed and use wetlands to help remove phosphorus from the water before it is released into the lake. Mr. Morrison said the first phase of the Lakeside Ranch STA is operational.

The C-44 reservoir near the St. Lucie waterway and the C-43 reservoir near the Calooshatchee River will store water west and east of the lake, respectively.

K-42 (#1), K-05 North (#10) and K-05 South (#9). The purple areas are already state owned.

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

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