Northern storage could cut lake releases by 60 percent

Lake level to be studied in 2022

OKEECHOBEE — As work on rehabilitating the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee continues — with an investment of about $100 million per year from the federal government — it would be premature to speculate about when or if the lake regulation schedule will change, according to Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We don’t know the specific changes but we will look at a range of options following the forward progress of the dike rehabilitation,” he explained in an online briefing Tuesday, March 14, with South Florida media.

“It’s premature if anyone were to say that we will not store more water or we will store more water,” he continued. “We are just not there yet.”

The federal government has invested about $870 million in the dike rehabilitation to date, and another $930 million is needed to complete the project, he said.

The dike work is a little less than halfway through, Col. Kirk said.

The initial work has included 21 miles of seepage barrier in the southeast area and the replacement of about two-thirds of the old culverts.

“We anticipate we will complete the currently planned rehabilitation work in 2025, based upon funding levels we have received in the past and expect to receive in the future,” said Col. Kirk.

He added that the corps dedicates about 25 percent of the dam safety funding for the entire nation to the Herbert Hoover Dike projects.

If funding was increased, the project could be finished about three years sooner. Completing the project in 2022 would require increasing funding to about $200 million for several years, he said.

The question of changes to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORE) will be addressed when the dike work is within three years of completion.

Currently, a three-year study is planned to start in 2022.

If the funding is increased to hasten the project completion they could start the LORS restudy earlier in order to have the study completed by the time the dike work is done.

Col. Kirk said he understands concerns about lake releases and the effect of the release of excess freshwater to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. He added that due to the rainfall patterns, they do not expect the lake to get high enough to require releases this year.

“Our forecast indicates we will not be in a high water time driving the releases of water as they were in 2016,” he said.

When questioned about Florida Senate Bills 10 — to spend $2.4 billion for an EAA reservoir — and 816, which would allow the lake level to increase to 19 feet, Col. Kirk said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on legislation currently under consideration in Tallahassee.

He said the corps is committed to the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The projects are scheduled in a certain order because they are all interconnected.

The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project (LOWP), part of CERP, is currently in the study phase.

He said the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs, east and west of the lake, are under construction.

The IDS is the optimal sequence for the projects moving forward, he explained.

“We’ve had lots of conversations with the South Florida Water Management District,” he said. “What we are committed to is the IDS as currently written.”

An Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir is planned as one of the CERP projects. The study phase for the EAA reservoir is planned to start in 2021.

He said he believes the EAA reservoir is planned in the right sequence for the optimization of the CERP.

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Northern storage could cut lake releases by 60 percent

Special to the Okeechobee News

On March 8, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) engineers and scientists published the latest detailed modeling of proposed water storage alternatives as part of the ongoing Lake Okeechobee Watershed Planning Project (LOWP). Among those alternatives are a 250,000 acre-foot above-ground northern reservoir, alongside 110 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells.

When combined with already authorized components, these recoverable water storage options reduce the total discharge volume to the estuaries by more than 60 percent, according to the SFWMD report.

“Publishing the results of alternatives is a key step in our public planning process that accounts for the views of every interested party,” said SFWMD Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau Chief Akintunde Owosina, P.E. “These latest results reaffirm our optimism about the future of these projects, as a team of engineers and scientists work to determine the most effective plan for restoring our estuaries and the Everglades.”

In addition to reducing total damaging discharges to the estuaries, these alternatives demonstrate additional positive results related to reducing the frequency of years in which damaging discharges occur. The models show that a 250,000 acre-foot northern reservoir and 110 ASR wells will decrease the number of years with damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee by more than half, giving the estuaries additional time to recover. These model results highlight the effort of the LOWP Project Delivery Team (PDT), comprised of SFWMD, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other state and federal agencies. The PDT’s goal is to deliver cost-effective projects that significantly reduce damaging estuary discharges, aid in achieving Lake Okeechobee water quality standards and enhance water supply and wetland habitats.

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

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