Legislature to consider EAA reservoir options

A Jan. 9 report to the Florida Legislature from the South Florida Water Management District lists two “best buy” options for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir required as part of Senate Bill 10.

SB 10 was signed into law on May 9, 2017 by Governor Rick Scott.

“Since its passage, SFWMD’s staff of professional engineers, scientists, modelers and restoration experts have worked tirelessly to meet the intent and letter of the law. Working with input from the public, they have developed alternatives to implement the EAA Storage Reservoir project on lands identified by the Legislature. Together with authorized projects including components of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), the reservoir will significantly reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges, improve flow to the Everglades and achieve state water quality standards. Implementation of any selected alternative will provide much needed relief to the estuaries and foster resilience in the ecology of the entire region,” SFWMD Chairman Dan O’Keefe wrote in the introduction to the Jan. 9 report.

“These alternatives presented to you today are built on a foundation of sound science, benefiting from an extensive and robust public outreach process. Each of these alternative plans will achieve state water quality standards. The work presented here is consistent with our broad portfolio of successful restoration activities such as Restoration Strategies, which when implemented has shown real-world results,” he continued.

The report gives five alternatives for the EAA storage reservoir. Alternative R240A and Alternative C360C are marked as the “best buys” and most cost effective of the options.

Alternative R240A includes a 240,000 acre foot reservoir, with a footprint of approximately 10,100 acres and a depth of approximately 23 feet. This alternative includes a stormwater treatment area of approximately 6,500 acres. This option preserves the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin. Estimated cost for this alternative is $1.34 billion.

Alternative C360C is a 360,000 acre foot reservoir with a footprint of approximately 19,700 acres and a depth of about 18 feet. This option can serve multiple purposes including water supply as identified in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration plan. Estimated cost for this alternative is $1.71 billion.

All five alternatives reduce discharges from the lake to the northern estuaries, increase flow to the greater Everglades and achieve water quality standards, according to the report.

By itself, an EAA reservoir would be static storage, and have little benefit to the northern estuaries. Any of the five alternatives would be part of the Central Everglades Planning Project which would convey more water from the lake to the reservoir and convey more water from the reservoir, through stormwater treatment areas, to the Everglades and on to Florida Bay.

“This is a really big day for our team,” said Eva Vélez, South Florida Water Management District Director of Everglades Policy and Coordination. “We have two alternatives we have identified as the ‘best buys’. We want to bring them to the governing board for their input and optimize them.”

Optimizing an alternative involves making any changes that would help the projects to meet the goals in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. One of those goals is an 80 percent reduction in excess discharges from the lake to the northern estuaries.

The “best buy” alternatives use land that is already in public ownership, or private land available from a willing seller. SB-10 does not allow the taking of land by eminent domain. About 500 acres for the project will come from willing sellers, according to the report.

The next step involves a review of the alternatives by the Florida Legislature. The recommended alternative will be sent to the Assistant Secretary of the Army by March 30, then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin their review process, which will take another six months.

When the project is finally green-lighted by Congress with a funding appropriation, it will take about three years to design and another five years to build.This is a massive project, Ms. Vélez explained.

Even the smaller reservoir and stormwater treatment area alternative is so large that it could hold both the cities of Stuart and Palm Bay.

For a more in-depth review of the EAA alternatives, see future editions of the Okeechobee News.

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