Water storage proposed north of lake

OKEECHOBEE — Four alternatives for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) were reviewed at the LOWRP meeting held Friday at the South Florida Water Management District Office in Okeechobee.

Each of the four alternatives uses a combination of above ground water storage and aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells. Two types of ASR wells are under consideration. The more efficient type of ASR injects water into the Floridan aquifer; about 70 percent of the water stored in these wells can be recovered for later use. The less efficient type of ASR injects water into the Avon Park Formation; about 30 percent of the water injected into the AFP can be recovered.

Walter Wilcox of the South Florida Water Management District explained that they cannot inject all of the water into the Floridan aquifer because they are constrained by the aquifer’s capacity to hold water. He said the APF wells would only be used to dispose of excess water to prevent it from being sent to the coastal estuaries.

The three above ground reservoirs under consideration are west of the Kissimmee River.

The LOWRP team has a lot of work ahead over the next 90 days, explained U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Tim Gysan. A tentative selected plan (TSP) will be chosen in August.

The next public meeting that will include LOWRP discussion is the South Florida Water Management District meeting on July 13 in West Palm Beach. Another LOWRP is planned in Okeechobee on July 27, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the SFWMD Okeechobee office/ A LOWRP meeting will be held July 28 from 9 a.m. to noon in West Palm Beach. The Lake Resources Advisory Commission will meet Aug. 3 in West Palm Beach.

The TSP recommendation will be made at the Aug. 16 meeting in Okeechobee (time TBA).

Lisa Aley, of USACE, said the Seminole Tribe has expressed some concerns because one of the proposed reservoirs is close to Brighton Seminole Reservation. She said they are concerned about the effect on their water supply and also on potential wildlife migration from the LOWRP project areas to the reservation lands. Both the Seminole Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe have expressed concern about potential cultural sites such as burial grounds, which might be in the LOWRP project areas.

Water quality is not an objective of this project, explained Gretchen Ehlinger of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, they will evaluate the project for total phosphorus load to Lake Okeechobee. They believe the projects will reduce the phosphorus entering the lake, and will at the very least ensure it does not make the phosphorus loading worse.

A variety of wetlands options are under consideration.

According to Joel Gaillard of USACOE, the wetlands projects under consideration were part of the original Kissimmee River floodplain. The proposed projects would restore the natural wetlands.

The Kissimmee River north wetland is already owned by the state. The area would be reflooded by water from the river when water levels are high.

The Kissimmee River Center #1 site is 1,477 acres. Only 3 percent of the land is publicly owned, so most of this parcel would have to be purchased.

The Kissimmee River Center #2 wetland of 1,196 acres is also mostly private land. Only 4 percent is currently in public ownership.

The Kissimmee River south wetlands is 542 acres. It is already in public ownership.

Of the Paradise run site – 1,547 acres in the north parcel and 2,537 acres in the south parcel – 77 percent is already in public ownership with 23 percent currently in private ownership.

The Lake O West wetland is 2,761 acres. The property is in private ownership.

The IP-10 wetland is 3,533 acres. It is in private ownership.

The total wetlands under consideration total about 13,000 acres.

During the public comments, Paul Gray of the Florida Audubon Society expressed concern that some of the data under consideration allowed for the lake to reach 17 ft.

“Any time you go above 16 ft., bad things happen in the lake,” he said.

Even short periods of water higher than 16 ft. can destroy the aquatic vegetation which is the spawning areas for fish, she said.

He said allowing the lake to rise above 16 ft. could mean losing 50,000 acres of the marshes around the lake.

When the lake is working right, you have 150,000 acres of plants, he said.

“Losing 50,000 acres of plants is really a big loss.”

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