Shallow reservoir plan questioned

12,500-acre reservoir planned for north of lake literally won’t hold water, say local landowners

OKEECHOBEE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to build a shallow reservoir with a 12,500-acre footprint in Glades County just north of Lake Okeechobee would be a waste of taxpayers’ money because it simply won’t hold water, according to a letter from Okeechobee County Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs to South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett.

The Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners responded to the letter Congressman Brian Mast sent to Mr. Bartlett. In the Dec. 11 letter, Rep. Mast recommended delaying the northern storage project known as the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project and concentrating available funding on southern storage.

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.

At their Dec. 26 meeting, the commissioners agreed to send a letter drafted and signed by Chairman Burroughs to Mr. Bartlett, making it clear the commission may support the ASR storage plan but does not support the WAF.

The WAF, he argued, simply won’t hold water.

“Aside from needlessly and detrimentally removing land from the tax rolls of Glades County, the other primary reason that above-ground water storage should not be considered or attempted in this specific area is the fact that the soil composition and hydrology does not at all lend itself to the intended purpose. As established by verbal testimony and photo documentation, water in this region moves horizontally both on the surface and below ground and is particularly influenced by the regulation schedule of Lake Okeechobee, though government agencies refuse to accept these observations or simply choose to overlook them,” he wrote.

“The observations of these local landowners are further validated by the fact that already existing above-ground storage projects on lands of similar composition within the nearby vicinity have to date never worked per the intended design and purpose, nor is there any hope for them to do so in the future,” he continued.

Chairman Burroughs cited two locations as examples — Nubbin Slough and Brady Ranch.

“Nubbin Slough carries inflated acquisition, engineering and design costs, yet it has never generated the expected functionality and results that were originally promised, and construction at the Brady Ranch (and likewise the proposed LOWRP site in northeastern Glades County) with subsurface limestone cap rock and porous soil won’t hold water at times when it is most needed,” he wrote.

“There are also a multitude of other critical attributes of these lands which should preclude their conversion to a water retention site including the significant cultural/historical sites on these lands that are known only to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the generational landowners there now as well as the diverse mix of endangered flora and fauna that are finding refuge and thriving on these properties.”

Mr. Burroughs noted SFWMD currently owns in excess of 750,000 acres in the Kissimmee River Valley between Kissimmee and Lake Okeechobee that could serve as pass-through filtration and storage for water well north of Lake Okeechobee.

While the Okeechobee County Commission does not support the WAF, the commissioners are strong supporters of storage north of the Big O.

“Our commission is a strong supporter of additional storage capacity north of Okeechobee County. The development of watershed projects north of Okeechobee County will do more to help reduce discharges than the EAA project because it will afford us the opportunity to clean the water coming from Shingle Creek prior to entering Lake Okeechobee,” Mr. Burroughs wrote.

“Given that the integrated delivery schedule is supposed to help us prioritize how all of these projects work and support each other, the commission does not see any reason this project would jeopardize the timely completion of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project as referenced by Rep. Mast,” he continued.

“As stated, the primary purpose of the EAA Storage Reservoir project is to make sure water is metered out into the agricultural areas, the urban areas and, of course, the natural systems south of the lake as a method of prevention from using Lake Okeechobee as a reservoir. Additionally, the project will help reduce the need for discharges to an extent by storing water that could otherwise be kept in Lake Okeechobee. Lowering the lake, even to a small extent, lessens the need to discharge to prevent dangerously high lake levels.”

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

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