The plans for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project (LOWP) are taking shape, as the project team evaluates possible sites for water storage and treatment.
LOWP is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which deals with the entire Everglades system, and includes 68 components.
CERP was authorized by Congress in 2000 as a plan to “restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection.” At a cost of more than $10.5 billion and with a 35-year time-line, CERP is the largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States. The projects involve the area spanning from the Kissimmee River basin north of Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay.
LOWP is a planning effort that aims to identify opportunities to improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water entering Lake Okeechobee.
The projects goals include:
• Identifying potential storage and water quality opportunities north of the lake;
• Providing for better management of lake water levels;
• Reducing high-volume discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries downstream of the lake; and,
• The project will improve system-wide operational flexibility.
At the Dec. 14 LOWP meeting, a range of above-ground water storage options were identified, with a static storage capacity of 150,000 acre feet to 350,000 acre feet. A range of aquifer storage and recovery wells (ASR) projects were identified with 60 to 80 ASR wells with a maximum capacity of 335,000 acre-feet per year to 450,000 acre-feet per year. In addition, the project identified a range of 30 to 150 deep injection wells with a maximum capacity of 500,000 acre-feet per year to 2,500,000 acre-feet per year.
The wetland options were ranked using factors such as wading birds, connectivity to other bodies of water, surface water connectivity, restoration potential and public access.
The options under consideration for wetland restoration as part of LOWP have been cut down to five: Lake O west, IP-10, New Kissimmee River, Bootheel Creek and IP-9.
The wetlands projects screened off the list are Paradise Run, Fish Slough and Lake O East.
In an interview after the meeting, Tim Gysan, Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project (LOWP) project manager, explained that Paradise Run is still part of LOWP, but that part of the Paradise Run could be incorporated into the footprint of the reservoir project.
“The majority of Paradise Run footprint is still in the project,” said Mr. Gysan. “It’s incorporated into a new project called the New Kissimmee River project. Only a small part is in the proposed reservoir.”
“We’ve talked with the public a little bit about the boundaries of what we are looking to do and then we are looking for ideas within those boundaries that meet those objectives,” explained John Campbell, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Mr. Campbell said the entire plan is still preliminary.
“To say something is in or out of the plan is still premature,” he said.
Mr. Gysan said they are redrawing boundaries between the wetlands and the reservoir.
The wetlands projects under consideration are all areas with hydric soil, which “We’re not trying to inundate a wetland area more than it would have been historically,” said Mr. Gysan.
While the reservoir and wetlands projects are expected to help the water quality by reducing some of the phosphorus load to Lake Okeechobee, the Corps’ main goal is water storage.
The Corps does not have much of a role in water quality, said Mr. Campbell. “That falls with the state,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we want a project that ultimately will result in Congressional authorization,” Mr. Campbell said. “We know we can do that by focusing on storage.” Mr. Gysan said they do make sure the projects won’t hurt water quality.
“As part of the analysis, we look at the water quality impact,” he said. “We make sure it won’t have a negative impact.”
He said building the reservoir just north of the lake allows more flexibility both with putting water into the reservoir and sending water from the reservoir into the lake when it is needed.
Water comes down the Kissimmee River at over 15,000 cubic feet per second, he said. “It’s too fast to capture all of it,” he said.
With the reservoir close to the lake, they would also have the option of pumping water from the lake into the reservoir.
He said the ASR and deep well injection projects will pretreat the water with filtration and UV. (UV radiation water treatment devices can be used for water disinfection.) He said there will be no additional chemicals used in the ASR or deep well injection projects.
The project schedule calls for a tentatively selected plan to be presented in January 2018.
“It’s still in conceptional design phase,” said Mr. Gysan. “We’re figuring out what can actually work.”
“We’re beginning to look at preliminary engineering designs,” he said, “to have an idea of what it will take to make these features function.”
Mr. Campbell said sometime in 2017 the public will be invited to review the array of alternatives.
“By 2018, we would select one of those alternatives and start developing details,” he added. Storing more of the water from the Kissimmee River basin — sending less to tide — may also help meet the water needs for Florida’s growing human population. But that’s not one of the goals for LOWP.
“The state is the responsible party for water supply needs,” said Mr. Gysan.
“Water supply would be considered, but at this point we’re not doing any specific formulation to improve that water supply.
“It may be an ancillary benefit,” he said.
“The primary driver is the restoration to the ecosystem,” he said.
Funding for the projects is not an issue to complete the study phase, said Mr. Campbell.“After the study is complete, Tim and his team and our division headquarters up in Washington D.C. will submit it to Congress,” Mr. Campbell said.
After the project is authorized by Congress, it will compete for funding with other restoration projects across the nation. Funding for construction and design is dependent on authorization from Congress.
CERP projects require a 50-50 cost share with the state.
Mr. Campbell said LOWP is high on the Integrated Delivery Schedule, which prioritizes the CERP projects.
“We’ve had projects going on east of the lake, west of the lake and south of the lake,” he said. This is the first project north of the lake since the Kissimmee River Restoration Project was authorized, he said.
Projects in other areas are underway.
The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) south of the lake was recently funded by Congress.
“Authorization is not the same as appropriation,” Mr. Campbell added. The Corps sill has to seek funding in a budget request.
Construction is proceeding on the C-43 reservoir on the Caloosahatchee River. This project is under the direction of the South Florida Water Management District.
Both the Corps and SFWMD have active construction contracts on various phases of the C-44 reservoir east of the lake, which will help reduce lake discharges into the St. Lucie estuary. “Our crews are currently building the reservoir component of C-44,” said Mr. Campbell. “SFWMD is building the water treatment project infrastructure.” He said a bridge replacement and intake canal work has already been already done.
“We continue to make progress on the Kissimmee River Restoration,” he said.
Mr. Gysan said they are coordinating all of these projects with LOWP to make sure LOWP is enhancing the overall CERP program.