Hydrologist stresses need for water storage north of lake

OKEECHOBEE — Why is the Everglades Foundation pushing to “buy the land” for more water storage south of the lake, instead of adding storage both north and south?

In a Jan. 9. 2017 letter to Tom Van Lent of the Everglades Foundation, South Florida Water Management District Bureau Chief – Hydrology and Hydraulics Akintunde Owosina questioned the bias in the Oct. 26, 2016 article “A comparison of the Benefits of Northern and Southern Everglades Storage,” by Mr. Van Lent and R. Paudel, both of the Everglades Foundation.

In the article, the writers compared a reservoir proposed north of the lake and one proposed south of the lake, and claimed a reservoir south of the lake would reduce excess discharges to the coastal estuaries by 50 percent while a reservoir north of the lake would only reduce discharges to the estuaries by 6 percent.

Mr. Owosina disputes the conclusions reached in that article, and questions data used for the comparison.

“The assumptions you made in the model input were obviously selected to reduce performance of the northern storage and create an outcome in favor of southern storage. In fact, the entire article claims findings based on irresponsible science, which presents a false choice not reflective of South Florida’s current water management system,” Mr. Owosina wrote.

The Everglades Foundation plan ignores flow equalization features that are included in the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) which has been authorized by Congress.

“By ignoring these features, your analysis is more an academic exercise than a realistic tool to support informed policy and decision making,” the letter states.

The claim of “almost” 50 percent reduction in estuary releases ignores the system’s constraints, Mr. Owosina explains.

“Your model runs describe a plan that cannot be implemented in reality. Your plan adversely impacts water quality, unlawfully takes water from existing users and risks the continued existence of endangered species,” the writer continues.

“A combination of both north and south storage, as CERP and the 2015 University of Florida Water Institute study envisioned, performs better than southern storage alone. While there is currently a great deal of southern storage both implemented and planned, northern storage must be planned, funded and constructed before the full benefits of existing and planned storage features to the south can ever be realized,” Mr. Owosina wrote.

“In summary, your plan as modeled is not a realistic means to store and send water south. To successfully convey water from Lake Okeechobee through the Water Conservation Areas to the Everglades National Park and, subsequently, to Florida Bay, you cannot:

“• Ignore water quality standards.
“• Ignore water supply for the environment and existing legal users.
“• Ignore the Endangered Species Act.

“Releasing a report in this form is a misrepresentation of the facts,” wrote Mr. Owosina.

NOTE: The phosphorus level in Lake Okeechobee is 100 parts per billion (ppb) or higher. Under the standards set by the Department of Environmental Regulation in 2003, water released into the Everglades must be 10 ppb or less. While excess rainfall can be moved quickly south from the Kissimmee River basin and into Lake Okeechobee by opening water control structures, moving water south of the lake is not that easy. Before water can be sent into the Everglades, the excess phosphorus must be removed. Thus, in times of heavy rainfall it is not possible to move more water south quickly.

Also, in times of heavy rainfall, the water storage and treatment areas south of the lake are often filled by local precipitation.

On a related matter, 30 years ago, FDEP set a target phosphorus level of 40 ppb for Lake Okeechobee, but to date has not been able to reduce the phosphorus load in the water entering the lake from the north. According to FDEP scientists, the key to reducing the phosphorus entering the lake lies in slowing the flow of water into the Big O, and cleaning the water before it enters the lake.

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