May 25, 2017
Army Corps: No deep injection wells
By CHAD GILLIS , CGILLIS@NEWS-PRESS.COM
SERIES: Lake Okeechobee Water Crisis
The feds recently scrapped the idea of sending stormwater 3,000 feet beneath sea level as a way to deal with heavy rain events and the damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges they ultimately lead to.
"This is about the Lake Okeechobee watershed project," said Jennifer Miller, with the Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville office. "The project in itself is in plan formulation phase and we’re looking at different features to see what is the most efficient plan moving forward."
That Army-speak means that what's called deep injection wells will not be considered in the near future as a way to store hundreds of billions of gallons water that is now flushed out to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean each year.
Deep injection wells are used by many utilities across the state and involve digging down about 3,000 feet into what is often called the boulder zone — an area of rock, silt and brackish water that does not mix with the drinking water aquifers used here.
More: Lake Okeechobee Water Crisis: Southern flow not a silver bullet
Miller said deep injection wells should be looked at in the scope of the overall Everglades restoration instead of specifically for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which were artificially connected to Lake Okeechobee to drain the Everglades for farming and development.
Although these types of wells are used in areas such as Cape Coral every day, the idea of adding deep injection wells to the Okeechobee system gained traction in 2016, when a strong El Nino system dumped more than a foot of rain during the dry season.
The farming community — often pitted against the coasts during heavy rain events —seems to support the wells as a way to cut down on the destructive discharges, which cause fish and marine mammal kills, close swimming beaches and feed algal blooms.
But environmental and fishing groups have largely opposed deep injection wells, saying the federal and state agencies should simply restore the Everglades.
"We don't support deep well injection," said Daniel Andrews, one of the founders of Captains for Clean Water. "It's an irresponsible practice that wastes our most valuable natural resource — water."
More: As dry season persists, Lake Okeechobee is extremely low
The Caloosahatchee river and its estuary today need flows from Lake Okeechobee during extremely dry times, largely because the Caloosahatchee River watershed has largely been developed and does not store water on the landscape as it did a century ago.
Unlike last year, the river is suffering from a lack of freshwater.
Dave Urich with the Responsible Growth Coalition in Fort Myers told the state he was concerned that this latest round of deep injection wells was a way of diverting the public's attention away from the longer-term Everglades restoration, which he says will fix all of the problems.
"My overall concern is that we continue to fight nature," Urich wrote to the water district. "Deep well injection is not Mother Nature's method. .... At any rate, as drought is killing our Caloosahatchee, this is a bad time to dispose of potable water by a very expensive process."
Andrews said both agencies should focus more on water storage reservoirs and keeping water on the landscape instead of flushing it to tide.
"The only solution to all of our water problems is above ground water storage, treatment and conveyance through the entire system," he said.
Connect with this reporter: Chad Gillis on Twitter.