Lykes project to clean water before it enters lake

OKEECHOBEE — A new project to clean water before it goes into Lake Okeechobee will use plants to remove excess phosphorus and nitrogen.

The Brighton Valley Northern Everglades Project is a public-private partnership between Lykes Brighton Valley LLC, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The project, which broke ground Nov. 16 on Lykes Ranch in Highlands County, will treat water in the Lake Okeechobee watershed over the next decade.

Groundbreaking on Lykes Ranch in Brighton for the 8200 acre site. The Brighton Valley Northern Everglades Project will clean water before it goes into Lake Okeechobee.

The Brighton Valley Project will create a slow and controlled flow across the 8,200-acre project, discharging an average of 40,000 acre-feet of treated water per year.

Water will be pumped from the C-41A Canal during excess water conditions and conveyed across the project land to reduce nutrients in the water. Clean water will be discharged to the C-40 Canal. The project is expected to remove an average of 3.2 metric tons of phosphorus and 27.3 metric tons of nitrogen from the water annually. Construction of the project will take about 12 months to complete. The property will be bermed around the perimeter so that it can retain water about 2 feet in depth. A berm through the center of the project will have culverts to control water flow.

Water will be pumped onto the property from the C-41A canal, flow over the property, and be released by gravity flow to the C-40 canal.

Chart detailing the Brighton Valley Northern Everglades Project on Lykes Ranch in Brighton.

“Every gallon stored counts to help alleviate high water conditions in South Florida,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Brandon Tucker. “This Governing Board is thankful to Lykes Brighton Valley for stepping up and helping reduce nutrients in the Lake Okeechobee watershed.”

Charlie Lykes, president and CEO of Lykes Brothers, said the Brighton project is the third public-private project on Lykes land.

Mr. Lykes said his family has owned the ranch in Glades and Highlands counties for about 80 years. “Eighty years ago, the population of Florida was about 2 million,” he said. “Today the population is over 21 million, and the population is growing by about 900 people each day.”

The growing population means the demand for clean water increases ever day, he noted. So do the challenges of increasing nutrient load.

“We’re going to see a lot of water and a lot of wildlife,” he said. “We’ll return a lot of clean water to the regional system.”

The Lykes Brothers ranch covers about 330,000 acres in Glades and Highlands County, touching the Kissimmee River, the Calooosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee. The ranch is “right in the middle of things,” Mr. Lykes said, perfectly located for water quality projects.

The funding for the project came from a 2016 appropriation by the Florida Legislature specifically for public-private partnerships to benefit the Northern Everglades. “The state is doing its part to finish major restoration projects that will protect the estuaries long-term,” Mr. Tucker said. “Private landowners are giving us the flexibility needed to store and treat water in the short-term, while helping to reduce damaging discharges to the estuaries.”

Mr. Tucker said the Brighton project is cost-effective for the taxpayers.

He said it is important to clean water before it goes into Lake Okeechobee, the liquid heart of the Everglades.

Charles Lee with Audubon of Florida said the project will provide a wide variety of habitat for wading birds and other wildlife.

Noah Handley, Lykes project manager, said Lykes Ranch is already home to other water treatment projects north of the lake. The 2,500 acre West Waterhole project is in the Indian Prairie basin. The 15,858 acre Nicodemus Slough project is about six miles northwest of Moore Haven.

Mr. Handley said the only complaints they get are from duck hunters. The projects are on private land; no one is allowed on the property without permission.

Eva Velez, SFWMD director of Everglades Policy, said the private projects like those on the Lykes Brothers Ranch, can be built more quickly than the larger public projects such as the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. Site work started on 560 acres of the EAA reservoir property last week. That massive reservoir project – which will store water 23 feet deep in a 10,000 acre reservoir – is expected to take at least 7 years to design and build. Ms. Velez said both the smaller private projects and the large public projects are needed to address the water quality and quantity issues in the Everglades system.

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