- Why is a new project being proposed? Should we just stick with building what’s in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan?
- Why does Senate Bill 10/House Bill 761 target 60,000 acres?
- If there are no willing sellers, is eminent domain going to be used?
- Why can’t the EAA Reservoir be built on the state-owned land known as the “A-1”?
- Why can’t the EAA Reservoir be built on the state-owned land known as the “A-2”?
- Why can’t the EAA Reservoir be built on the Holeyland/Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas?
- Can we just hold more water in Lake Okeechobee? Isn’t this what the National Academy of Sciences recommended?
- Can all of the problems be solved north of Lake Okeechobee?
- Will the proposal in Senate Bill 10/House Bill 761 take funding away from other conservation projects?
- Don’t we have too much Everglades restoration work to do already?
Why is a new project being proposed? Should we just stick with building what’s in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan?
The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir project is one of the 68 components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2005 and built on property in the EAA known as the “Talisman” land. This land was later divided into compartments known as “A-1” and “A-2”. When U.S. Sugar contracted to sell its land in 2008, the South Florida Water Management District decided to build a water quality project on A-1 with the understanding that a reservoir would be built on land acquired from U.S. Sugar located closer to Lake Okeechobee. As the U.S. Sugar purchase was scaled down, land for a reservoir was not acquired and the project was not built. Work on the EAA Reservoir project is not scheduled to begin again until 2021. Senate Bill 10/House Bill 761 seek to find a location and advance the schedule so that the project will no longer be delayed.
Senate Bill 10/House Bill 761 delineate the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir project as originally envisioned in Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan- using 60,000 acres of land to store 360,000 acre-feet of water in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
According to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan - Final Feasibility Report and PEIS
(1999 re-study): Section 188.8.131.52 Everglades Agricultural Storage Reservoirs:
“This feature includes above-ground reservoir(s) with a total storage capacity of approximately 360,000 acre-feet located in the Everglades Agricultural Area in western Palm Beach County and conveyance capacity increases for the Miami, North New River, and Bolles and Cross Canals. The initial design for the reservoir(s) assumed 60,000 acres, divided into three, equally sized compartments (1, 2, and 3), with water levels fluctuating up to 6 feet above grade in each compartment.”
Senate Bill 10/House Bill 761 do not call for using eminent domain to acquire land. The bill sets out a procurement process to seek willing sellers of land once funding for the purchase is secured. If no sellers are located by the end of 2017, the remaining provision of the existing voluntary agreement between the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Sugar will be used to acquire land.
A Flow Equalization Basin has already been built on the A-1 property. This project removes phosphorus from water before it enters the Everglades and is a crucial part of Governor Scott’s restoration strategies program. In the early 2000s, this was the original location of one part of the EAA Reservoir project. However, when U.S. Sugar requested the South Florida Water Management District buy the U.S. Sugar-owned land, the decision was made to use this land for water quality rather than for the EAA Reservoir project. The understanding was that the EAA Reservoir project would be built on land newly acquired from U.S. Sugar closer to Lake Okeechobee. That land was never purchased and the EAA Reservoir was never built.
The A-2 property is part of the Central Everglades Project (CEP) element of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan LINK. This key restoration project was just authorized by Congress in December 2016. Extensive analysis of building a deep storage reservoir on A-2 was conducted. This option was rejected in lieu of building a second Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) on this property that will work with the existing water A-1 FEB and existing Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to improve water quality. If the already authorized project is changed to build a Reservoir on A-2, then additional land will need to be acquired to build more water quality projects.
“The screening evaluations led to the conclusion that deeper reservoirs are initially able to capture more water but do not offer the limited water quality treatment capabilities of an FEB, thereby requiring additional STAs.” 6-81
These are lands that are managed specifically for wildlife protection and recreational activities. If water storage infrastructure was built on these areas, these important values would no longer be available.
Can we just hold more water in Lake Okeechobee? Isn’t this what the National Academy of Sciences recommended?
In the past, years of chronic high water levels in Lake Okeechobee led to ecological emergencies, a worsening of nutrient pollution, and damage to the Herbert Hoover Dike. This dike holds back water from Lake Okeechobee and protects communities south of the Lake. Without a new southern outlet, harmful discharges of water from the Lake will still occur into the sensitive St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, and these discharges will occur under more urgent conditions with dirtier water.
The Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration in its 2016 biennial review noted that the Everglades overall needs significantly more water storage than originally recognized. The Committee recommended that an analysis of Lake Okeechobee water management take place “as soon as possible in parallel with the Herbert Hoover Dike modifications to inform near term project planning involving water storage north and south of the lake.” The Committee did not state that Lake levels should be held significantly higher.
Storing water in the Lake Okeechobee watershed is part of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Water storage north of the Lake is important to provide a supply of water for the Lake during the dry season. However, storing water north of the Lake is not able to ease estuary discharges while providing needed freshwater for the quenched Southern Everglades and Florida Bay.
Will the proposal in Senate Bill 10/House Bill 761 take funding away from other conservation projects?
The Legacy Florida Act dedicates 25 percent or $200 million for the Everglades from funds made available from the Water and Land Legacy Amendment (Amendment 1 - 2014). The amendment specifically referenced purchasing land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, and Everglades funding can be used for this purpose without impacting other conservation projects.
It was always the goal of Everglades restoration to advance numerous projects at once. Restoration involves large infrastructure projects that take years to build. Advancing numerous projects concurrently with some in the planning stages, others under construction, as others begin operating is the key to ensuring restorations success. Beginning to plan and acquire land for an EAA Reservoir while other projects are under construction is exactly how restoration was designed.