SFWMD moving forward with storage wells

WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) appears to be moving forward with plans to use $50 million recently provided by the Florida Legislature to build Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells to store water north of Lake Okeechobee.

A July 22 letter from SFWMD executive director Drew Bartlett to Col. Andrew Kelly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “based on our initial analysis and review of the research, we will be pursuing the ASR features of LOWRP to quickly provide benefits to the northern estuaries by offering short- and long-term recoverable storage.”

Florida Senate Bill 2500 states: “The funds in Specific Appropriation 1642A shall be distributed to the South Florida Water Management District for the design, engineering, and construction of the specific project components designed to achieve the greatest reductions in harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries as identified in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) Draft Integrated Project Implementation Report and Environmental Impact Statement dated July 2018. The South Florida Water Management District is directed to negotiate a pre-partnership credit agreement with the United States Army Corps of Engineers as authorized under Section 6004 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.”

This state funding, by law, can only be used for projects already identified for LOWRP. In LOWRP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes a shallow (with water up to about 4 feet deep) Wetland Attenuation Feature (WAF) with a storage volume of approximately 46,000 acre-feet; 80 aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells with a storage volume of approximately 448,000 acre-feet per year; and two wetland restoration sites along the Kissimmee River, Paradise Run and Kissimmee River Center.

While the wetlands restoration plans received widespread support at the July 17 SFWMD meeting, wetlands do not provide significant storage to reduce discharges to the coastal estuaries, a requirement for the use of the funding. The WAF, which will provide storage, will take an estimated 20 years to build and will cost around $1.2 billion. Both the wetlands restoration and the WAF will require the purchase of land that is currently in private ownership. Comments made at LOWRP public hearings in 2018 indicate most (if not all) of those property owners will not be willing sellers.

The legislation requires SFWMD use the $50 million for LOWRP features “designed to achieve the greatest reductions in harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries.”

According to information shared at the July 17 SFWMD meeting, a cluster of 10 ASRs with an on-site a water treatment facility could be built for $50 million on property the state already owns. Ten ASRs would provide storage of about 56,000 acre feet of water.

At the SFWMD July meeting, Tim Gysan, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Senior project manager, said before water is injected into an ASR well, it is treated to drinking water standards, using UV and filtering, before the water is put into the ground. The water injected into the ASR stays in a “bubble” area around the well. He said they estimate recovery of 70 percent of the stored water, but added this is a conservative estimate because a pilot project found a higher rate of recovery in wells north of the lake. He said with an above-ground reservoir, water is lost to evaporation. With ASR, there is no water lost to evaporation.

Unlike other components of LOWRP, the ASRs can be phased in. Because the state already owns the land, work could begin immediately.

Members of the public who spoke at the July 17 meeting in favor of the ASRs included: Beth Lewis of the Nature Conservancy; Nyla Pipes of One Florida; Pete Quasius of Audubon of the Western Everglades; Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers; Gary Ritter of Florida Farm Bureau; Kerry Kates with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association; Ernie Barnett of Florida Land Council; Mike Collins, a former member of the Water Resources Analysis Coalition; Steve Walker, representing the Seminole Tribe; and, Rich Budell, who served as director of Office of Agricultural Water Policy with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for 17 years.

In the July 22, letter to Col. Kelly, Mr. Bartlett, wrote: “During the 2019 legislative session, Florida legislators approved $50 million as part of Specific Appropriation 1642A. This legislation directs the South Florida Water Management District to use the funding for the design, engineering and construction of specific project components within the Lake Okeechobee Watershed District (LOWRP) that are designed to achieve the greatest reductions in harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. It also directs the district to negotiate a Pre-Partnership Credit Agreement (PPCA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The district is seeking to enter into PPCA No. 1 with the USACE for the LOWRP. This initial PPCA would encompass any of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) or wetland restoration features identified in the LOWRP Draft Project Implementation Report and Environmental Impact Statement. Based on our initial analysis and review of the research, we will be pursuing the ASR features of LOWRP to quickly provide benefits to the northern estuaries by offering short- and long-term recoverable storage, consistent with the legislative intent of the appropriation. The Kissimmee Pilot ASR has already demonstrated promising results for this important tool for LOWRP.

“However, as partners, we must be confident that we fully understand the extensive ASR research already conducted prior to the new ASR well construction and utilize this information to responsibly move forward. We plan to thoroughly review previous pilot studies, reports and other research, and request that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers participate in and assist with this review.

“The generous state funding became available on July 1, 2019.”

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