Reservoir alternatives considered

OKEECHOBEE — Area property owners whose land may be within the footprint of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) came away from the July 27 meeting at the South Florida Water Management District Okeechobee office with more questions than answers.

The final array of alternatives for the LOWRP project includes four alternatives for combinations of reservoirs and Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells. In addition, six different areas are under consideration for wetlands restoration. The project may include one or several of those wetlands projects. (For maps, see end of story.)

Glades County Manager Paul Carlisle asked why all the storage is planned in Glades and Okeechobee counties.

“We need to put higher requirements on developments in Orlando,” he said. He said while the Orlando/Kissimmee developers are creating the problems with additional runoff into the watershed, and reaping the benefits from those developments, the rural counties close to the lake are paying the price through the loss of land off the tax rolls.

“Glades and Okeechobee counties should not pay the price for development in Orlando,” he said.

He said developments at the top of the watershed should be required to provide water storage for a 100-year flood event. The water should be cleaned before it flows south to Lake Okeechobee, he added.

“They keep saying the discharges are from Lake Okeechobee. The discharges are from Orlando,” said Mr. Carlisle. “Lake Okeechobee does not create water; it stores water.”

Okeechobee City Councilman Gary Ritter also asked for storage higher in the watershed.

He said water stored in the north of the watershed could supply water to the Kissimmee River during drought.

Matt Morrison, of SFWMD, said the four alternatives presented at the meeting are not finalized, and the footprints “may shift a bit.”

He said channelizing the Kissimmee River to provide drainage to the upper Kissimmee basin “basically channelized and compartmentalized the system.” The drainage project had unintended consequences, he said. Because the water comes down from the north into the lake so fast, it causes the lake level to rise rapidly and results in the need to discharge water to the east and west.

He said LOWRP is one of the 68 different components in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan designed to balance the quality, timing and distribution of flows. Mr. Morrison said the idea of putting more storage north of the lake has been around for more than 20 years.

He said projects are already under construction for more water storage east and west with the C-44 reservoir near the St. Lucie waterway and the C-43 reservoir near the Caloosahatchee River.

“We have storage, east, west and south,” he said. “We are now looking at storage north of the lake.”

He said the federal projects, funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, do not address water quality. The state, however, has plans for water quality improvements, he added.

“The freshwater wetlands we are planning could take the water from the reservoir and pump it through the wetlands,” he said. Flowing water through wetlands is the natural way to remove excess nutrients from the water, as the submerged plants absorb phosphorus and nitrogen.

“Storage will help minimize the harmful flows to the estuaries,” he said.

“We should be able to hold that water, clean that water and redistribute that water and send it south.”

When asked if they would consider manual removal of nutrients from the water, he said the volume of water is so large that it is not cost-effective.

“There is no silver bullet, no one technology, no single solution,” he said.

All of the water storage alternatives include use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells.

“ASR is a well technology to take the water when it is available, store it underground and bring it back up and distribute it when we need it,” said Mr. Morrison.

Dr. Paul Gray, with Audubon Florida, said as originally envisioned, the LOWRP was to be just one component of the upper watershed plan.

“We have to get back to that Northern Everglades Plan,” he said.

He added the reservoirs should have components built in to clean the water before it is released into the lake.

Glades County resident Joe Pearce asked why they aren’t doing more to stop the water pollution in Martin County where leaking septic tanks are close to waterways. He also asked for a legal description of the land involved for the LOWRP alternatives.

“There are local issues in Martin County they will have to address,” said Mr. Morrison.

Lisa Aley of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the four alternatives under consideration were chosen for factors including hydrology, protection of endangered species and cost-effectiveness. She said priority was given to using land the state already owns.

“Once we get to the tentatively selected plan, there will be opportunities to fine tune the final project,” she said.

She said 250,000 acre-feet of storage could take six inches off the lake.

The ASRs will not require any land to be purchased, she added, because the wells are all planned on land the state already controls. Each ASR has an above-ground footprint of about one acre, and they will be located next to waterways.

“You’re not going to reservoir yourself out of these issues until you turn off the water from the north,” said Mr. Carlisle.

Donald Jones, whose family’s ranch is near the proposed S-42 reservoir, asked how high the water will be in the reservoirs.

Ms. Aley said the plans call for a depth of about 15 feet.

“What leaching will you have on neighboring property?” asked Mr. Jones. “What will you do to compensate the neighbor if you flood his land?”

Mr. Morrison said state and federal law prohibits them from adversely affecting other properties.

“We will make sure we won’t have offsite movement of water,” he said.

Chuck Barnes asked about endangered species in the project areas. He said there are bald eagles nesting in the are of the K-05 North reservoir site.

Mr. Jones also questioned whether they have investigated the properties to find out if there are any old dipping vat sites. Arsenic from old dipping vat sites could leach into the water, he said. Mr. Morrison said they would look into that.

Glades County Commissioner Tim Stanley asked what the state will do to ensure public safety.

“If this reservoir breaches, who is going to evacuate all of the people in Buckhead Ridge?” Mr. Stanley asked.

Tommy Clay said property owners need to be able to plan for their own future.

“We’re trying to make plans for developing property,” he said. “We need some information. We’ve got a business to run.”

Walter Wilcox of SFWMD said they used historic rainfall information to run 10,000 different scenarios on computer models. He said the computer modeling shows the storage plans can reduce the harmful wet season flows to the east and west as well as benefit the lake’s ecology. Storing water will also mean fewer water cutbacks during the dry season, he said.

“Holding the lake higher during drought time will increase the water available to users,” he said.

“We looked at footprints in other areas and they did not perform as well,” said Mr. Wilcox.

Katie Edwards said the state should be doing more to work with landowners who are willing to store water on their property.

She said the state’s population is growing and with it, the demand for water.

“You have landowners willing to work with you and provide water storage. Why can’t you take advantage of that?” she asked.

Mr. Morrison said they will “look into” the many questions raised during the meeting. He encouraged the property owners to contact him directly with their questions and concerns.

What happens next?

The tentatively selected plan will be one of the four alternatives. That decision will be announced Aug. 15 at the Water Resources Advisory Commission Meeting. It will then be on the agenda for the Sept. 14 meeting of the SFWMD Governing Board.

SFWMD will then seek federal approval to release the Project Implementation Report on Jan. 25, 2018. This will refine the optimized project footprint, refine the ecological and water supply benefits and finalize the project cost.

If approved, the Project Implementation Report will be published on Feb. 27, 2018.

The project would then go to Congress for approval and appropriation of funding. Congress may consider it the following year, but there is no guarantee. In the past, there have been gaps of up to seven years in which no federal water projects were approved. Also, approval and appropriation of funds are two different steps. Once a project is approved, it still has to wait for Congress to approve the funding.

Alternative 1b includes the K-05 North and K-05 South reservoirs which would provide 190,000 acre feet of water storage; plus 80 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, which would provide 448,000 acre feet per year. The preliminary project cost estimate is $1.8 billion. The state already owns part of the land in the K-05 South reservoir area. The ASR projects are also sited on property already owned by the state.


Alternative 2a includes the K-05 North and K-05 South reservoirs as well as the K-42 reservoir for a total of 361,000 acre feet of storage; plus, 110 ASR wells which would provide 616,000 acre feet of storage per year. The preliminary project cost estimate is $3.1 billion.


Alternative 2b includes the K-05 North and the K-42 reservoirs for a total of 276,000 acre feet of storage; plus, 70 ASR wells which would provide 392,000 acre feet of storage per year. Preliminary project cost estimate is $42.5 billion.


Alternative 2c includes the K-42 reservoir with 171,000 acre feet of storage; plus 50 ASR wells which would provide 280,000 acre-feet of storage per year. Preliminary project cost estimate is $1.4 billion.

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In addition to the four alternatives for above ground water storage in reservoirs and below ground storage in ASR wells, the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan will also include wetlands. Wetlands projects under consideration include the Kissimmee River North wetland, with an estimate project cost of $224 million; Kissimmee River Center wetland with an estimated project cost of $24 million or $143 million (depending on option selected); Kissimmee River South wetland with an estimated project cost of $124 million or $24 million (depending on option selected); Paradise Run wetland with an estimated project cost of $85 million; IP-10 wetland will an estimated project cost of $132 million; and Lake Okeechobee West wetland with an estimated project cost of $88 million. The Kissimmee River North and South wetlands and the northern portion of Paradise Run are already in state ownership.

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

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