EAA Reservoir won’t be ‘designed on the back of a napkin’

WEST PALM BEACH – The Everglades Foundation’s claim at the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir could be designed, engineered and constructed in four years is confusing the public at a time South Florida residents should be united in supporting construction of the reservoir, according to some members of the Water Resources Analysis Coalition who reviewed the EAA reservoir plan at their Dec. 6 meeting in West Palm Beach.

South Florida Water Management officials have said two years is the “best case scenario” for design and engineering work required before construction can begin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated design and engineering will taken about three years.

The massive reservoir will cover more than 10,000 acres and hold water more than 20 feet deep.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that while some environmental groups have complained that the Corps estimation of three years to design and engineer the reservoir and at least four years to build it is too long to wait, from her point of view “the speed that this project is moving is record-breaking.”

Large federally-funded construction projects like this traditionally move very slowly, she explained.

She said Corps products are not done quickly, but they work.

“We don’t design large infrastructure like this on the back of a napkin,” said Lt. Col. Reynolds, “Our projects are built to ensure the public safety of those who live and work in the vicinity of our projects.”

The EAA reservoir project has been approved by Congress and the president, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not start design work until they receive a federal funding appropriation.

The dike around the EAA reservoir will be about the same height as the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. But unlike the earthen Hoover Dike, constructed in the 1930s through the 1960s with whatever materials were dredged from what would become the Rim Canal, the EAA dike will be carefully engineered. Engineers will plan the materials to be used, gather geotechnical data prior to construction, and carefully study the hydrology of the area before construction starts.

SFWMD Chief Engineer John Mitnik said the lease on the state-owned 16,000 acres designated for the reservoir and a storm water treatment area (STA) was amended last month so the district could immediately take possession of 560 acres that will be between the reservoir and the STA. Three sugar cane fields are being plowed under so that area can be used to store rocks that will be used to build the reservoir. Materials for the reservoir will also be mined on the site.

“In three weeks they have cleared two of the former sugar cane fields and started clearing the third field,” he said.

“Any materials prepositioned there can be used in construction of the STA or the reservoir,” he explained.

SFWMD will set up some temporary pumps to expedite the removal of water from Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) to recover rocks left there when the plans for the original EAA reservoir were abandoned in 2008.

Around 800,000 to 1 million cubic yards of rock and material has been sitting in the FEB since the termination of the original reservoir plan, he said.

They will move as much material as quickly as possible before the wet season starts. During the wet season, the FEB will be under water.

“On Monday, two geotechnical drill rigs showed up on site,” Mr. Mitnik continued. “We are starting the geotechnical testing around the perimeter of the reservoir, to support design efforts of the reservoir.”

Lt. Col. Reynolds said the advance work done by SFWMD will give the Corps a head start when funding does come through to start the design work.

All of the site investigation and data collection going on is the same data collection required for any large project, she explained.

Water managers have also dismissed the idea that the 16,000 acres could be used to store water before the reservoir is built.

Mike Elfenbein, from the The Foundation for Balanced Environmental Stewardship, said he is tired of the “righteous indignation in the media” over the idea of storing water on flat farmland.

“I commonly see it written that this land could have been used to store water,” he said. “I don’t think it could. From what I understand about storing water, you have to have infrastructure to do so.”

Berming the 16,000 acres to hold water would require a design and engineering plan and construction funding, Mr. Elfenbein continued. It would also take time to design and engineer.

Reach Katrina Elsken at kelsken@newszap.com

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