As plans for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir make their way through the myriad of the government meetings, reviews and approvals, comments at public meetings indicate there is still a lot of confusion about the project.
A recap of some major points discussed in meetings related to the project:
• The EAA reservoir was in the original Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), approved by Congress in 2000. The C-44 reservoir east of Lake Okeechobee, C-43 reservoir west of the Lake Okeechobee and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) reservoirs are also part of CERP. Water managers and the Corps of Engineers always planned for storage, north, south, east and west as part of CERP. It was never an “either/or” choice. The C-43 and C-44 reservoir projects are currently under construction. A LOWRP reservoir is in the planning stage.
• Senate Bill 10 provides funding to move up the timing of the EAA reservoir as a CERP component.
• SB 10 requires SFWMD to use land that is already in public ownership or property or land purchased from willing sellers for the EAA reservoir. Land cannot be taken through eminent domain.
• About 25 percent of the land in the EAA is already in public ownership (state, federal or local government.)
• The initial concepts under discussion are: a 240,000 acre-foot reservoir that would require 10,000 acres for storage and another 6,300 acres of storm water treatment areas (STAs), with a total project footprint of approximately 16,000 acres; and a 360,000-acre foot reservoir that would require 22,000 acres for storage and another 9,500 acres for a total project footprint of approximately 31,000 acres.
• The original CERP plan is sometimes referred to as the “yellow book,” because the original CERP plan, which was printed in multiple volumes, had a yellow cover. When someone refers to a project or idea as “not in the yellow book,” they mean it was not part of the CERP plan approved by Congress.
• The EAA reservoir is not a “silver bullet.” Construction of the EAA reservoir will not prevent discharges to the coastal estuaries during extreme storm events, such as Hurricane Irma, and extremely wet years, such as 2016. The EAA storage, in combination with other CERP projects, could lessen the severity of the discharges and lessen the number of years in which discharges would be necessary.
• The primary problem with the lake discharges is that too much freshwater lowers the salinity levels in the coastal estuaries. The nutrient pollution issues (phosphorus and nitrogen) affecting the estuaries are mostly from local basin runoff. The lake discharges are in most cases cleaner than the local basin runoff. For example, on average lake water is about 120 ppb phosphorus while basin runoff into the C-44 canal is about 300 ppb phosphorus. On average, lake discharges account for about 20 percent of the phosphorus entering the St. Lucie river. However, even if the lake discharges were as clean as rainwater, the rapid flow of excess freshwater would be damaging to the estuaries.
• The EAA reservoir will receive runoff from the local EAA basin as well as from Lake Okeechobee. This is what it was always designed to do as part of CERP.
• The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) is a $1.9 billion slate of storage and conveyance projects on land already in public ownership south of Lake Okeechobee. The southern components of this plan will allow additional water to be directed south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay and provide additional opportunity to reduce releases to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. CEPP is congressionally authorized and awaiting funding.
• Congressional approval is not appropriation. Those who want the project to move forward should encourage their elected representatives in Washington D.C. to fund CEPP.
• The EAA reservoir alone would be a static reservoir. Without the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), the EAA reservoir could fill up with direct rainfall and local basin runoff during the rainy season and have little space for additional water from Lake Okeechobee. The CEPP projects are key to moving water from the lake to the reservoir and moving water from the reservoir through water treatment areas and on to Florida Bay. CEPP provides increased capacity to move water from Lake Okeechobee south and removes barriers to move water from the water treatment areas north of the Tamiami Trail to Florida Bay.
• The Tamiami Trail acts as a dam to block the sheetflow of water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. To increase flow to Florida Bay, the roadway must be raised to allow water to flow beneath it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested funding for 10 miles of raised roadway, but so far funding has been approved for just 3.5 miles of bridging. One mile of bridging has been completed; another 2.5 miles of raised roadway is under construction.
• SFWMD is conducting a series of meetings to solicit public input on the EAA Storage Reservoir Project. These public meetings are consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The NEPA process provides an opportunity for the public to give input related to the project. The next public meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 9 a.m. at SFWMD Headquarters, 3301 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33406. If you cannot attend the public meetings, you can still submit comments on the EAA Storage Reservoir Project throughout the planning process by email to EAAreservoir@sfwmd.gov. Written comments can be sent to: Mike Albert, Project Manager, South Florida Water Management District, 3301 Gun Club Road, MSC 8312, West Palm Beach, FL 33406.