C-43 Reservoir: Clearing Up Misconceptions

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At Monday’s Council workshop, Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane will give a presentation on water quality. He will be the third local water activist asked to do so, with the first two – John Heim and Ray Judah – having given their presentations on April 18. During Judah’s presentation that day, the former Lee County commissioner made some disparaging remarks about the proposed C-43 Reservoir project slated for western Hendry County that prompted several questions from Council member Anita Cereceda who, like some of our readers, believed Judah to be a proponent of the project – one which she and Ruane championed when she was Mayor of Fort Myers Beach. A couple of days later, Judah explained his concerns with C-43, concerns we decided to share with our readers before Mayor Ruane makes his presentation on Monday.

“C-43 will hold 170,000 acre feet of water which is only a small percentage of what we need, and it also has no water quality component. It will essentially be an incubator for blue green algae, and to put that water back into the river will violate the Clean Water Act and make water quality problems worse,” Judah said on April 18th.

When we spoke with him later, Judah pointed that while he did vote for C-43 when he was on the county commission, he did so expecting that a water treatment component would eventually be added.

“I expressed concerns that the C-43 Reservoir was inadequate to store excessive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee and deficient in water treatment,” Judah told us in an email that he also forwarded to members of Town Council. “In fact, my vote for the resolution was contingent upon a water quality component that had been promised by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) during years of meetings and discussions about the need to incorporate a treatment system in the design and construction of the C-43 Reservoir. The Lee County Commission – including myself – approved a $10 million dollar expenditure in a joint venture with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in 2008 to purchase 1,773 acres known as the BOMA tract for a water quality project. To date, the SFWMD has yet to deliver a meaningful water quality component for the C-43 Reservoir or BOMA.”

In August of 2006, Judah wrote a commentary about C-43. In that commentary, written shortly after he toured ‘reservoir test cells’ with SFWMD officials and concluded that it would ‘only exacerbate water quality problems in the Caloosahatchee River because it does not include a filtration marsh to remove nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen’.

In 2010 Judah traveled to the nation’s capitol with former commissioner Tammy Hall to meet with the director of Army Corps of Engineers to ask for – among other things – funding for a water quality component be added to the C-43 Reservoir.

“Heavy nutrient loading of phosphorus and nitrogen, warm water, and limited circulation in the reservoir create an optimum environment for the proliferation of bacteria and algae,” Judah said then.

The C-43 reservoir, which is now under construction and won’t be finished until 2020, was initially supposed to be completed in 2011, according to SFWMD projections. We spoke with Phil Flood of SFWMD, and he confirmed that the C-43 Reservoir never had a water quality component to it.

“Remember that when you say ‘C-43’ you’re actually talking about the Caloosahatchee River as that is what it was renamed after the Army Corps of Engineers straightened it and connected it to Lake Okeechobee – the C-43 Canal,” he said. “The reservoir was designed to be just that – a reservoir for the river. While a water treatment area for that reservoir was never planned, the District has acquired 1,773 acres upstream in Glades County – called the BOMA tract after the person who owned it – and construction has begun on the first phase of what will be a treatment area for water from the river. Since we don’t know what plants remove nitrogen from the water, the first phase will involve testing. We are going to have 12 ponds with different plants so we can determine the best way to get the nitrogen out.”

As far as the C-43 Reservoir, Flood said he doesn’t think that the BOMA land will be used to treat water from there since it’s upriver, but that plans are being considered for 1,500 acres adjacent to the site.

“The District has elected to keep that site for possibly use as a water quality treatment site in the future,” he said.

In an email about the reservoir sent to us by the SFWMD, the District states that the C-43 project’s primary purpose “ is to store freshwater during the wet season and release it to the Caloosahatchee River Estuary during drier months to help balance salinity.”

“Like all projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan approved by Congress, operational and design changes can be made to the C-43 Reservoir to accommodate future developments and ensure its benefits are realized,” the email reads. “When the project is completed, the C-43 Reservoir, alone, will resolve more than 70 percent of the times where the river does not meet the minimum flows and levels necessary for a healthy ecology.”

Last week, Judah told us that he is concerned that Mayor Ruane continues to push for C-43 without letting people know that it does not have a water treatment component – something he says will makes the water that will be stored there unsuitable for releases into the river during drought conditions when the Corps stop releasing water from the lake and the estuary becomes starved for fresh water.

“My position never changed with my concerns that the C-43 reservoir was inadequate to handle excessive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee and improperly designed without a water quality component,” Judah said. “At the time that I supported funding from the Water Resource Reform and Development Act, there was no other potential funding source for any additional storage in the Lake Okeechobee watershed and as far as I was concerned the reservoir project was contingent upon a water quality component. In over a decade since my 2006 C-43 commentary, the SFWMD has failed to deliver on a meaningful storm water treatment system for C-43. Funding for additional meaningful water storage and treatment south of Lake Okeechobee is now available with Amendment 1 money.”

“The only meaningful solution is the purchase of land south of Lake Okeechobee for storage, treatment and conveyance of water to the Everglades.”

 

Keri Hendry Weeg