December 31, 2016 (January 1, 2017 print version)
Biennial water review shows insufficient storage
By John Cassani
The just released Sixth Biennial Review of Everglades restoration by the National Academies of Science corroborates much of what local activists have been saying about the C-43 Reservoir plan for more than a decade.
The review states that Everglades restoration projects, also known as CERP, may have underestimated the water storage necessary to meet restoration targets. This finding may also apply to the C-43 Reservoir project, where estimated storage needed may have been significantly underestimated by using rainfall from a relatively dry period.
A similar finding from earlier research also indicates that the dry season minimum flow needed for a healthy estuary is significantly higher than what is indicated in the SFWMD’s Minimum Flow Rule adopted in 2001. The SFWMD has continually delayed revising the minimum flow rule which may be more about promoting the C-43 Reservoir as a fix to the problem, especially as some have called into question its cost-effectiveness and ecological relevance.
Aggravating this long-standing issue of inadequate flow is the over allocation of water to consumptive uses in Florida. The Florida Legislature apparently saw this train wreck coming as the state’s population is booming again. Instead of progressively addressing the issue they passed legislation in 2016 that prevents the South Florida Water Management District from denying a consumptive use permit even when the water is from a public waterbody that is in recovery from inadequate supply.
An examination of USDA agricultural harvest records for Big Sugar and other corporate agriculture in south Florida indicates no significant loss of harvest even during periods of historic drought, indicating very little adversity from lack of water supply over past decades, contrasted to the almost yearly harm occurring to the Caloosahatchee estuary.
A key finding of the biennial report is that both federal and state agencies have not adequately incorporated significant new findings of science since 1999, that if ignored, could seriously reduce Everglades restoration progress. In the case of the C-43 Reservoir, the initial purpose was water supply to the estuary and agriculture but over the past decade water quality has declined to the point where it may now be a more important and limiting issue.
Local activists saw this issue coming long ago and have requested, to no avail, a water quality component to be integrated into the C-43 project to deal with the predicted growth of harmful algal blooms in the reservoir. The lack of timely progress on other water quality treatment options has contributed to the issue such as a Glades County project initiated by SFWMD in 2007 with $10 million from Lee County tax payers.
The SFWMD was recently quoted as saying the biennial report “strays from science” and is “irresponsible.” Critical pronouncements by SFWMD and other state officials of independent Everglades restoration reviews, like the recent University of Florida Water Institute report and now the National Academies of Science, is becoming a pattern.
Let’s hope that Everglades restoration can keep pace with the new and growing challenges of population growth and climate change because they are not going away anytime soon.
John Cassani is the Calusa Waterkeeper for the greater Caloosahatchee River watershed. Calusa Waterkeeper is a Waterkeeper Alliance member organization.