By Jason Kane
December 10, 2009
A former Martin County ranch is one step closer to being transformed into a massive wetland that will help clean up Lake Okeechobee.
The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District gave the final nod Thursday morning for the construction of a pump station at the future Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area.
Scheduled for completion in December 2011, the facility will be the largest treatment wetland in the Northern Everglades for improving the quality of water that flows into the lake.
The 2,700 acres of former ranchland was acquired by the agency in 2003 to create the wetland area, which will also double as a preservation area.
The pump station primarily will direct stormwater from the Taylor Creek and Nubbin Slough drainage basins into the Lakeside Ranch treatment area — between Warfield Highway and Southwest Conners Highway in western Martin County.
There, plant life will remove about 19 metric tons of phosphorous a year and the clean water will be funneled into Lake Okeechobee.
Officials are concerned with removing the phosphorous because it fuels algae blooms, which in turn suck oxygen from the water and kill other forms of wildlife.
During seasons when stormwater runoff is not high, water in the lake will be recirculated into the treatment area for additional phosphorous removal.
“I think this will be a good thing for the lake as well as the local area,” said Jeff Kivett, director of the agency’s Everglades Restoration Engineering Department. “At all of the stormwater treatment areas, we have seen increased wildlife and great birding views.”
Typically, fish and birds thrive in treatment wetlands, and the 2,700 acres that make up Lakeside Ranch should be no exception.
The property will be open to the public once the construction work is finalized, and Kivett predicts that hiking, bicycling, bird-watching tours will be very popular in the area.
Michigan-based Douglas N. Higgins Inc., a contractor with offices in Naples and Key West, was selected to build the pump station, the water control structure and a 500-foot canal improvement.
Combined, the project will cost nearly $6.8 million and will represent a portion of the $34.4 million first phase of the construction efforts at Lakeside Ranch. Work has already begun on the 925-acre treatment wetland, which also is included in the first phase.
A total of $3 million of that money will come from the Save Our Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee trust funds, with the remainder being funded by the water management district in the next two fiscal years.
The second phase will involve the construction of a second stormwater treatment area and pump station at the southern part of the property.
Two years ago, the district also purchased Brady Ranch — a 2,000-acre piece of property adjacent to Lakeside Ranch — for use in a future expansion. No plans are currently in the works for the property.
Martin County officials have been extremely supportive of the Lakeside Ranch project and other efforts to reduce nutrient levels in Lake Okeechobee.
When the lake is high, one of the fastest ways to discharge some of the water into the ocean is to push it through the St. Lucie River — and ultimately the Indian River Lagoon. If nutrient levels are high, it can have adverse effects on plant, fish, and animal habitats throughout the county.
“The cleaner that water is, the less adverse effects will come our way,” said Paul Millar, the county’s water resource manager. “Anything that would help clean up the lake is in our best interest.”