Plans for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee continue to move forward.
The public had another chance to ask questions and comment on the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project June 27 at a meeting in Clewiston sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Similar meetings took place June 26 in LeHigh and June 28 in Stuart.
Only two members of the public spoke at the Clewiston meeting, which attracted about 30 people. Both speakers expressed support of the project.
Celeste De Palma of Audubon Florida spoke in favor of the project.
“We have been trying to push water away for a really long time, and we’re living with the consequences,” she said. “Everglades restoration puts the water back where it belongs.”
“We urge the corps to make sure Congress gets to review this project and consider it for this year’s Water Resources Development Act,” said Ms. De Palma.
“Moving forward with this project, it’s important that we all came together and worked out something that seems to work for all of the communities,” said Nyla Pipes of One Florida.
A lot of people still question whether the project will meet the water quality standards required for water entering Everglades National Park, Ms. Pipes explained. She added that she is confident the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers will make the project work and that it will meet water quality standards.
She said more public outreach and education about the project may be necessary to assure people that water entering the Everglades will meet the required water quality standards.
Marci Jackson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explained that the EAA reservoir is proposed as a change to the already approved Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).
In December 2014, the corps and SFWMD completed planning of CEPP, she explained.
The project, authorized by Congress in 2016, included a flow equalization basin (FEB) on the A-2 parcel in the EAA. That land is already in state ownership. This FEB was a shallow storage feature.
In 2017, the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 10, which called for a deep-water reservoir in the EAA.
The current proposal asks Congress to approve changing the CEPP plan to build a deep-water reservoir on the A-2 parcel instead of the FEB. The reservoir site is about 10,500 acres and the reservoir will be 23 feet deep. The project includes an additional 6,500 acres of stormwater treatment area. Vegetation in the STAs helps remove nutrients from the water.
CEPP would increase the canal capacity to move more water from the lake through the stormwater treatment areas and on to Florida Bay, explained Leslie Waugh of the corps.
As originally approved, CEPP would provide an additional annual flow of 210,000 acre-feet (about 59 billion gallons of water) to the Everglades and Florida Bay, she said. Changing the shallow reservoir project to a deep reservoir would increase the annual flow to about 370,000 acre-feet per year (about 104 billion gallons of water.
CEPP provides the additional conveyance from the lake to the reservoir and the STAs, then through the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) and under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
Without the other CEPP projects, the EAA reservoir would be static storage, Ms. Waugh said.
The FEB in the A-1 parcel, already in place, will not change.
The new reservoir, existing A-1 FEB and new STAs will all work together to store and clean water, she said. The reservoir will provide environmental benefits and also be available for some recreational uses, she said.
The project provides additional storage and treatment, decreases extreme low lake events and reduces water supply cutbacks. By sending more water south, the project also reduces the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee, Ms. Waugh explained.
The corps will accept comments on the EAA reservoir plan through July 24.
“Public engagement is an important part of the environmental review process, and we encourage all interested individuals, groups and agencies to attend one of the public meetings, review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and provide your input,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander.
Comments are being accepted through July 24 and can be sent electronically to Stacie.J.Auvenshine@usace.army.mil, or mailed to:
Stacie Auvenshine, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District , P.O. Box 4970, Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019.