August 16, 2016
South Florida Water Management District considers $46 million water storage proposals | Map
Emergency measures to keep polluted water out of coastal estuaries this rainy season could be followed by much larger and much more expensive projects next year.
The South Florida Water Management District is reviewing proposals from six large-tract landowners to pull water out of canals that otherwise would flow into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, which would cost $45.5 million of the $47.8 million the 2016 Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved for more water storage projects.
Too much nutrient-laden freshwater in those two estuaries can feed algae blooms like the ones both rivers experienced this summer.
Approved projects could start holding back water during the 2017 summer rainy season, district spokesman Randy Smith said.
The district would cover construction costs and pay landowners annual "rent," which would have to be negotiated and approved by the Legislature each year.
Proponents say such projects help landowners — many of them farmers — replace income lost to devastating citrus diseases.
But such projects get a cool response from environmentalists who claim they divert money and attention away from permanent fixes. They say the priority should be building large projects on government-owned property, like the C-44 Canal Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area under construction, and calls for a similar project to store and move water south from the lake.
The district's Inspector General J. Timothy Beirnes agreed, saying in a November 2014 audit that dispersed water management projects should be seen as "short-term strategies" and "complements to regional projects," such as reservoirs.
Opponents also see the multimillion-dollar projects as corporate welfare to large landowners who typically are large political donors.
The district took several immediate steps this year to store more water in response to Scott's declared state of emergency because of algae blooms in the two estuaries.
Beginning June 30, the district began storing more water in the Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to keep it from flowing south to Lake Okeechobee, prompting the Army Corps of Engineers to reduce Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie River in early July.
Also, the district began working on projects to store more water on public land while several private property owners agreed to take water out of canals heading to the St. Lucie River. They're reimbursed for the pumping costs but not paid for use of their land, Smith said.