October 23, 2016
By Gene Gibson, CRCA Riverwatch V.P.
C-43 Reservoir: Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
The proposed C-43 West Basin Storage Project calls for constructing an above-ground, water reservoir that would cover 14 square miles in western Hendry County at a cost of more than $600 million. As conceived, the C-43 reservoir would capture a fraction of runoff flowing down the Caloosahatchee River during the summer wet season and hold this water for release during the winter and spring dry season to help moderate estuary salinity. Maintaining salinity balance in both the wet and dry seasons is essential to a healthy estuary ecosystem that can support sea grasses, oysters, fish and other wildlife.
When first proposed, the C-43 reservoir seemed like a good idea. But, since 2005, observers, including Riverwatch, have voiced concerns, to little or no avail, about the C-43 reservoir design and its potential performance (see All the Facts: C-43 Reservoir crca.caloosahatchee.org). A perfect storm of poor project planning, the problems include:
1. The current design lacks a water quality component. When the weather warms, the C-43 reservoir will become an incubator for harmful algae blooms (HABs), more commonly know as blue/green algae. HABs cause health and environmental dangers and can adversely impact tourism and home values.
2. The current design poses a safety issue. National and State Government Agencies rate the reservoir as having a high hazard potential owing to most of the reservoir sitting above ground level. Think berm or dike failure, similar to the concerns associated with Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dike.
3. The costs outweigh the benefits. Riverwatch believes that implementing environmental regulatory reform would cost less than expensive infrastructure projects paid for by taxpayers. Some officials, however, may find the political pain of vigorously enforcing effective, common-sense regulations too costly.
4. State Government agencies and politicians are reluctant to admit they are wrong. Their design decisions are based on flawed modeling that lacks current, science-based, data. This enables officials to avoid making hard political decisions — especially ones opposed by powerful interests that compete for limited water supplies.
A better solution:
Riverwatch supports Professor William Mitsch’s proposal for an accelerated planning and funding process for a storage/treatment area in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), along with additional planned storage and treatment features north of Lake Okeechobee. Furthermore, a redesigned, shallower C-43 reservoir would include a water treatment component and could cost less. The Mitsch plan comports with Senator Joe Negron’s plan that also calls for a storage/treatment area in the EAA.
Remember the Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Jet Port in the Big Cypress Swamp? They also seemed like good ideas at the time. Fortunately, political leaders eventually recognized that these costly projects would cause environmental catastrophes and stopped them. As George Santayana said, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s hope the current design of the C-43 reservoir meets the same fate as these environmental boondoggles.