Oct. 26, 2017
South Florida Water Management District: Reservoir would 'dent' Lake Okeechobee discharges
By: Tyler Treadway
WEST PALM BEACH — The proposed reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, in conjunction with other planned projects, would "put a huge dent" in the current discharges plaguing the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, an official said Thursday.
That was the bottom line Matt Morrison, the South Florida Water Management District's head of federal policy and coordination, gave to about 100 people gathered at the agency's West Palm Beach office to discuss the proposed reservoir.
Since the latest round of discharges began Sept. 15, more than 61 billion gallons of water has been discharged east to the St. Lucie River and more than 144 billion gallons has been sent west to the Caloosahatchee River.
"There's no silver bullet" to solving the discharges, Morrison said. The solution is a suite of projects to store and treat water north, east, west and south of the lake.
"As more storage comes online," Morrison said, the discharges will lessen.
The reservoir approved in May by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott will hold from 78.2 billion to 100 billion gallons of excess Lake O water and storm water treatment areas to clean the water before it's sent south to Everglades National Park.
How much water the project will keep out of the estuaries, Morrison said, won't be known until the district determines alternative configurations of the project and evaluates their capacities, a computerized process known as "modeling."
The modeling looks at how several variations of the project would work, given a wide array of rainy and dry conditions over the past 40-plus years.
"We've got to develop the alternatives before we can model them," he said. "So stay tuned."
Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, told the crowd modeling for an early version of the reservoir in 2002 showed:
A 100 billion-gallon reservoir alone would reduce damaging discharges by about 34 percent.
All the planned water projects around the lake, including the southern reservoir, would reduce discharges to the St. Lucie by 91 percent and to the Caloosahatchee by 96 percent.
Modeling also will determine if the state has enough land set aside for the project, Morrison said.
The original plan for the reservoir called for buying thousands of acres of farmland south of the lake. Residents and businesses in the area argued taking land out of production would result in lost jobs and lost property tax revenue.
As part of a compromise, the project will be built on land already owned by the state. And the state law requires any extra land be bought from "willing sellers," not taken by eminent domain.
Negotiations are with willing sellers are ongoing for a small tract west of the reservoir site, Morrison said, and more landowners are being sought.
The reservoir will need a way to get water from Lake O, and Morrison said two canals that could be used may need to be enlarged to move water fast enough. That might require buying land or getting extra right-of-way from "willing sellers," Morrison said.
About 100 people attended a similar meeting Monday in Clewiston. Several area residents stressed the need to store and clean water north of the lake rather than south.
Planning for such a project usually takes about three years, Morrison said, but this one has to be done in about a year.
"Frickin' hold on, because we're going to be moving really, really quickly," Morrison said.
In November, Morrison said, the district should have some alternatives on where to put features of the project; "and in December we should really start seeing some modeling results and cost information."
The district and the Corps are supposed to have a basic design for the reservoir when the Legislature begins its 2018 session in January.
It's supposed to be approved by Congress by the end of 2019.
If you go
· What: Planning meeting for reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee
· When: 9 a.m. Tuesday
· Where: B-1 Auditorium, South Florida Water Management District headquarters, 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach
· Purpose: Public and district staff will use and possible locations of features — reservoir, storm water treatment areas, canals, pumps — for several versions of the proposed project.
· Information: Reservoir update