March 24, 2017
Caldwell: Don't let Lake Okeechobee reservoir disrupt Everglades progress
By Isadora Rangel
Don’t disrupt what’s already in progress to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges by pushing for a massive land buy, cautioned a lawmaker opposed to Florida Senate President Joe Negron's push this year to build a reservoir.
State Rep. Matthew Caldwell said Friday finishing projects in the works should take priority over building a $2.4 billion reservoir south of the lake, as Negron wants. That’s why the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers should continue to plan a reservoir north of the lake to hold water before it enters the lake, as well as projects to inject excess water into the ground, Caldwell said.
Once water managers know how much water they can keep out of Lake O using those methods, they’ll know how much more storage they need to the south and whether they need to buy additional land to complement acres the state already owns, he said.
Negron, R-Stuart, wants to reverse the current timeline for Everglades restoration by pushing the southern reservoir planning from 2021 to as early as 2018 and before the northern reservoir. He has said southern storage is more effective than northern.
Negron is answering to cries from his Treasure Coast constituents who dealt with algae blooms in the St. Lucie River last year. Caldwell, of Fort Myers, represents people affected by discharges into the Caloosahatchee River and said what the government has in place right now is the right approach, but it takes time.
Caldwell and the water district took Treasure Coast Newspapers on a helicopter tour of Everglades and Kissimmee River restoration projects Friday. They showed how ongoing efforts to restore the river cleans and reduces the speed with which water enters the lake and the magnitude of projects designed to clean Everglades-bound water.
Caldwell cautioned about Negron's push to change that timeline, saying it already has taken the state and federal government longer than expected to work on current projects. Only one of the 60-plus projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is completed, controlling invasive species in Broward County, said Paul Warner, a principal scientist for the water management district.
That delay is largely because Congress hasn’t properly funded each project and has taken too long to authorize them. Water managers also were “overly optimistic” about how long it would take them to plan them such projects when the plan was approved in 2000, Warner said.
Changing the focus to a southern reservoir will delay progress even more, Caldwell said.
“We seem to get caught up on the project of the day that gets political attention,” he said.
SEND IT SOUTH
Negron and environmental groups such as the Everglades Foundation say while northern storage and restoring the Kissimmee River are beneficial, they won’t reduce lake discharges significantly and don't send much-needed water into Everglades National Park. They say only southern storage would do the job.
Before the water reaches the Everglades, however, it needs to be cleaned up through man-made marshes, which today get filled with farm runoff. If a 60,000-acre reservoir is built, the existing marshes wouldn’t be enough because they would be too full during the wet season, Warner said. Negron has said the solution to that is filling the reservoir and continuously sending water south during the dry season, so it’s not too full when it rains.
BUILD IT NORTH
Caldwell said the state should consider southern storage only after it finishes building such man-made marshes and other reservoirs to clean the Everglades-bound water, which is expected to happen in 2025.
“If not, there will be limitations on how much water you send south,” Caldwell said.
Among the benefits of building northern storage first is the state already owns 20,000 acres of the 17,000 to 27,000 acres needed. The northern reservoir requires fewer than the 60,000 acres Negron is proposing to the south because it would be deeper.
While they agree on the need for a northern reservoir, Negron and groups such as the Everglades Foundation say once it is full, there’s no other place for the water to go but into the lake. That water eventually gets discharged into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers during the rainy season, causing environmental havoc.