SFWMD budget for deep injection wells debated

WEST PALM BEACH — Emergency Estuary Protection Wells (EEPW) funding was debated during the public comments period of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board workshop meeting on June 12.

Celese DePalma Audubon of Florida said she noticed the EEPW funding is in the SFWMD 2020 draft budget.

“More often we experience drought than we do flood,” said Ms. DePalma. “We should look for ways to store water.”

She recommended taking the funding budgeted for EEPW and use it instead to finance a project to study a seepage wall in South Miami-Dade County,

District staff has done some preliminary work, she explained. A 15-mile wall would take two to five years to construct, with an estimated cost around $55 million. The original deep well injection well project had a $50 million cost estimate, she said.

Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers asked the board to keep the needs of public recreation in mind when reviewing the budget. He said thousands of people use the public land managed by SFWMD. “It doesn’t do any good to restore something if no one can go look at it,” he said.

Mr. Cook had a different view of EEPW than the other speakers. He said the original plans for deep injection wells, which send water through the earth into the Boulder Zone (where it moves very slowly into the ocean, coming out many miles offshore), were abandoned in favor of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells. The idea behind ASRs is that the excess freshwater is pumped into the aquifer and can later be recovered. Unfortunately, he continued, test wells found there were problems with ASRs. The ASRs did not work out and the plan was abandoned, he said.

Deep injection wells could be used to protect the estuaries from excess freshwater flow during high water emergencies, he said.

This is the least expensive way to put the water out of the system, at a fraction of the cost of other options, using land already owned by the district, said Mr. Cook.

“You can basically stop the damaging discharges,” he said. “If you want to stop the discharges, want to do it cheap, want to make it work, you’ve got to look at deep injection wells.”

Rae Anne Wessel of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation also spoke against the EEPW funding. “Deep injection wells would only address those years when you have too much water,” she said. She also encouraged the governing board not to roll back the tax millage rate paid by property owners in the district.

“You have projects and you have places to put that funding right now,” she said. “In the past, I feel the lack of that funding has hamstrung the district.

Alex Gillen, executive director of Friends of the Everglades, asked the board to raise property taxes. For a small increase in the millage tax, the organization could better address the needs for water monitoring and infrastructure, he said.

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