Storage needed to address water woes

Concerned about harmful freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries? Don’t expect big changes with the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, currently under development by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A recently released independent scientific review points out the problem: There just isn’t enough water storage north, south, east or west of Lake Okeechobee to change the way the water flows.

The “Scientific Synthesis to Inform Development of the New Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual” explains: “Repeated planning exercises have shown that large volumes of inter-annual storage and associated water treatment are required north, south, east and west of Lake Okeechobee to manage Lake Okeechobee levels within a desirable range, reduce damage from high and low flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries, and move more water south for agricultural, urban and ecosystem uses.”

The study found current storage projects don’t meet half that need:
• An estimated 400,000 acre-feet of storage is required in the Caloosahatchee Watershed. Only 170,000 acre-feet is under construction.
• Approximately 200,000 acre-feet of storage is needed in the St. Lucie watershed. Only 40,000 acre feet is under construction.
• At least 1 million acre feet of combined storage is needed north and south of Lake Okeechobee. The Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir (approved but not yet under construction) will provide 240,000 acre-feet of storage south of the lake. No storage has been approved north of the lake. The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan (LOWRP) includes 448,000 acre feet of storage per year via aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells and about 43,000 acre-feet of storage in a large, shallow reservoir. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to move forward with the plan but the South Florida Water Management District has yet to provide a letter of support for LOWRP, the only northern storage project included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Because CERP projects are funded 50-50 with federal and state dollars, LOWRP requires a state sponsor.

At the beginning of 2019, the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board approved funding for an independent scientific review to help inform the development of the next Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule.

Work on the review, which took place from February to December 2019, was led by Wendy Graham, professor and Carl S. Swisher Eminent Scholar in Water Resources and director of the University of Florida Water Institute. Other authors of the review include Mark Brenner, professor of geological sciences and director of the UF Land Use and Environmental Change Institute; Jim Fourqurean, professor of biology and director of the Florida International University Marine Education and Research Center; Charles Jacoby with the UF Soil and Water Sciences Department; and Jayantha Obeysekera, research professor, Earth and environmental sciences, and director of the FIU Sea Level Solution Center, Institute for Water and Environment.

Future articles in the Lake Okeechobee News will address other aspects of the scientific report. The report can also be viewed online at waterinstitute.ufl.edu/wp-content/uploads/UF-Water-Institute-Final-LOSOM-Synthesis-Report.pdf.

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