In Everglades restoration, we often talk about “getting the water right.” Success relies on restoring the right balance for the quantity, quality, distribution, and timing of water flows throughout the Greater Everglades. The completion of the Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area this summer is a major step in cleaning water flowing into Lake Okeechobee, and making strides towards restoring this critical ecosystem.
Constructed wetlands, called Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), are important features that contribute to reaching that balance by filtering stormwater and absorbing nutrients through plants. The Everglades is very sensitive to nutrients like phosphorus, which in excess can degrade water quality throughout the ecosystem. This is why the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have shepherded the construction of several STAs.
Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) is a 2,700-acre wetland in western Martin County. These wetlands treat stormwater runoff from the Taylor Creek and Nubbin Slough basins before that water enters Lake Okeechobee; these basins have the highest phosphorus loads going to the lake.
This project has moved in phases — with Phase 1 completed in 2012 — allowing for more than 3,600-acre feet of water to be treated in the STA. Phase 2 was completed in 2020 and allowed for approximately 1,840-acre feet of volume for treatment. The increased water treatment capacity will improve the quality of the water entering the lake from the most phosphorus-rich basins in the lake’s watershed.
This summer, thanks to the South Florida Water Management District, the third and final phase of this STA was completed ahead of schedule — the S-191A Pump Station. This pump station allows for additional flood control in the area and sends Lake Okeechobee water to the STA when it is in danger of drying, which will increase its efficiency.
The Lakeside Ranch STA was identified as a priority project in Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order, “Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment,” as well as in the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program and in the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Plan. And it is no wonder — each year, this project removes about 16 tons of phosphorus from the water that would otherwise end up in Lake Okeechobee.
“This project is important for Lake Okeechobee’s future,” said Paul Gray, PhD, Everglades Science Coordinator for Audubon Florida. “By reducing nutrients going into the lake, we protect water quality for it, our coastal estuaries, and the Everglades.” Not only do STAs provide an important nutrient filtering function for the Everglades, they also operate as storage basins for flood attenuation and water supply, support abundant fish and wildlife, and provide for numerous recreational opportunities. In fact, Lakeside Ranch STA is open to the public for hiking, biking, and birding.
For more information, visit: sfwmd.gov/recreation-site/lakeside-ranch.