February 2, 2017
State may pump stormwater below ground
By Chad Gillis
How do you get rid of excess rain water without using the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries as dumping grounds?
Try deep well injection, or aquifer storage and recovery, two technologies the South Florida Water Management District is considering as it moves forward with Everglades restoration projects.
"The whole idea is that they could assist in the control of the lake level and help with damaging estuary discharges," said Bob Verrastro, the district's top hydrologist. "And the one thing about deep injection wells is they are a one-way street. Itís water that will ultimately be lost underground. Itís as if the water were discharged to tide, but we can use these wells to discharge to tide before they (large volumes of water) get to Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries."
A group called the Water Resources Advisory Commission takes input during the planning process and is an advisory board for the district's governing board members. It met Thursday in West Palm Beach to discuss options but didn't vote on a specific plan.
More than 500 million gallons was released from Lake Okeechobee and into the Caloosahatchee River during 2016, an odd year that started with heavy El Nino rains in January and ended with six of the last seven months seeing below average rainfall.
The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers were connected to Lake Okeechobee artificially to drain the Everglades for farming and development.
Heavy rains last year brought nutrient-laden waters, some of which came off the local landscape, and led to algal blooms and swimming beach closures. Some Realtors say they lost home sales over the poor water quality.
These two delivery processes are similar but have one major difference: aquifer storage and recovery allows the water to be saved and used when needed.
Deep well injection works by pumping water about 3,000 feet below the surface, to a brackish aquifer called the boulder zone. The big problem with this technique is that the water is forever lost to the ocean and unable to be retrieved and used during periods of drought.
Aquifer storage and recovery, or ASR, uses a reservoir to store billions of gallons of water on the surface and in more shallow, higher quality aquifers. Once treated, that water can be retrieved and used during the dry season to keep estuaries like the Caloosahatchee's healthy.
An ASR component was once planned for the Caloosahatchee Reservoir, or C43, but testing showed that deep storage wells in this part of Florida could be problematic.
Business-minded committee members seemed eager to get the projects started.
"Even if we could have reduced the flow to the estuaries 30 percent or 40 percent it would have been a great success, so why are we continuing to wait to put in deep well injection and why donít we start with deep well and then work our way into ASR and other technologies," said Joshua Kellam, vice president at Global Energy United on the east coast. "Start sending the water down. We donít need extreme situations to get the ball rolling."
The original Everglades plan, developed in 1999, called for 333 ASR reservoirs and wells throughout the historic Everglades, but engineers found out during testing phases that only 130 of wells could be safely used.
Verrastro said the district put the same regulations on the ASR sites, during the planning process, that is uses for larger water permits, like agriculture or a large community development.
"When we did that we broke through many of the constraints," he told the group. "We violated each of those constraints and we began ratcheting down the number of ASR wells until we found out what the actual number was that we could construct without violating any of these constraints."
Some committee members were worried that deep well injection would be a waste of a valuable resource.
"Florida Bay has been dying of hyper-salinity and I hate to see wasted water," said Gene Duncan, representing the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. "But when the conservation areas are full and they canít take anymore and Lake Okeechobee is full and they canít take anymore, we blow out the estuaries. Florida Bay needs the water and weíve got too much water stacked (north of the lake) and now Iím hearing the answer is to pump it underground and lose it all together."
Drew Martin, with a local Sierra Club chapter, said the group is against ASR and will probably oppose deep well injection too.
ďI think weíve tried to imply that this is going to work because people donít want to look at some of the other solutions, like storage south of the lake," Martin said. "They donít want to look at the legislative proposal to put storage south of the lake. So weíre floundering around for an alternative to make the people in the estuaries happy and say Ďlook, close your eyes to this problem because weíve got a solution.íĒ
Martin was referring to a bill filed by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would set aside billions of dollars to buy sugar farm lands south of Okeechobee for a water reservoir.