November 6, 2017
Lake Okeechobee reservoir: Willing sellers contact SFWMD to offer more land
By: Tyler Treadway
WEST PALM BEACH — Planning for the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee got into the weeds Monday; with some early details on how big the facility and the canals leading to it will have to be.
Officials from the South Florida Water Management District supplied details from some preliminary modeling for the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir, the project is intended to reduce harmful Lake O discharges to the Caloosahatchee River in Lee and Collier counties and the St. Lucie River in Martin and St. Lucie counties.
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.
Matt Morrison, the district's head of federal policy and coordination, emphasized much more detailed modeling will be done once specific alternatives for the project are determined.
The project has to include both the reservoir approved in May by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott and a stormwater treatment area to hold and clean excess Lake O water and stormwater treatment areas to clean the water before it's sent south to Everglades National Park.
For example, to achieve the goal of sending 98 billion gallons of excess Lake O water south:
· A 10,000-acre reservoir and a 6,000-acre STA could be built on 16,000 acres of public land known as the A-2 parcel south of the lake.
· A 22,000-acre reservoir and a 9,000-acre STA could be built on 31,000 acres of public land, the A-2 and A-1 parcels.
Keep in mind: The smaller the footprint, the deeper the reservoir will have to be.
Further modeling will determine which will be more cost-effective: a deep reservoir on a smaller footprint or shallower water spread out over more land, Morrison said.
The state law calling for the project doesn't allow for land to be taken by eminent domain, only from "willing sellers."
The district has "been contacted by a number of landowners" interested in selling, said Ray Palmer, a member of the district's real estate department. He declined to give details, saying the calls are confidential.
To get water to the reservoir quickly — at a desired rate of 4.8 billion gallons a day — will require enlarging the two canals that would lead to it from Lake O: the Miami Canal and the North New River Canal.
Widening and deepening the canals will require "moving millions of yards of dirt," said Mike Albert, a district project manager, and could require obtaining more right of way —also from willing sellers.
Because the two canals also are being used for flood control, Darrell Brand of Palm City, a member of the Rivers Coalition leadership team, asked if a new canal could be built specifically to send water to the new reservoir.
Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, noted the original idea for the reservoir conceived by the Army Corps of Engineers called for a dedicated canal.
But it's not called for in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program, the state's blueprint for the reservoir, Morrison replied.
A dedicated canal "is an interesting concept," Morrison said. "It's probably more cost effective to use existing canals, but we should look at it and put a price tag on it."
In previous meetings Morrison has said the reservoir:
· Is not "the silver bullet for redirecting undesirable discharges and providing all kinds of water to the Everglades. There is a long list of other projects which are very important, and you've got to have storage options east, west and north of the lake as well."
· Would "put a huge dent" in the current Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers when coupled with those other storage projects, which are either under construction or in the planning process.
· Will be dynamic, not static, meaning the water level will rise and fall, allowing more than the reservoir can hold at one time to be stored, cleaned and moved south over the course of a year.
· Is being planned at a rapid pace. The usual three-year planning process is being compressed into one year.
The legislation creating the project includes the upcoming deadlines:
Jan. 9: The district must update the Legislature on its progress
Jan. 30: The district must complete its draft report
March 30: The district must submit its final report to the Army's assistant secretary for Civil Works
Dec. 2019: Congress is expected to authorize its half of the $1.6 billion project cost.
A completion date for the project has not been set, Morrison said.