Reservoirs on Track
When the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) held its “2020 Everglades Update: Celebrating Historic Progress on Everglades and Estuary Restoration,” via ZOOM on Friday afternoon, April 17, the program had an upbeat tone. While moderator Rae Ann Wessel, the SCCF Natural Resources Policy Director, elicited relevant comments from Drew Bartlett, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Executive Director; Chauncey Goss, the SFWMD Governing Board Chair; and Sharon Estenoz, Chief Operating Officer for The Everglades Foundation, it was Howard Gonzalez, the Program Manager for the United States Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District who updated the water quality enhancement projects from the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) from 2000, with funding from the Federal and State of Florida governments.
“We are now in the final stages of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, with its completion scheduled for later this year, so that will be a key milestone in CERP and an important water quality foundation project. When this ecosystem restoration is complete, you will see a rapid response not only for native vegetation but for the native bird and other wildlife populations.
“The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project is in the planning stage, with its project implementation report. We will review this planning report at the State and agency levels prior to forwarding it on to Congress, to increase wetland restoration, water storage including recovery wells, and wetland attenuations featuring reservoirs all around Lake Okeechobee that was in the original CERT. Congress, through its Water Resources Development Act, needs to ultimately authorize this project.
“Another important element for Lake Okeechobee is the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation Project that addressed infrastructure connections tied to the current operational schedule of the lake, especially in regard to releases of water to the east and west to the Saint Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers respectively, as well as south to the Everglades. We estimate the Dike Restoration will be complete in 2022.”
C-43 & C-44 Reservoirs
“East of Lake Okeechobee, a key project for the Saint Lucie River and the Indian Lagoon River is the C-44 Reservoir that includes a stormwater treatment area to clean the water that comes out of the reservoir, so that when we put it back into the system, we put it back in clean. This will help out with water quality for the Saint Lucie estuary and the Indian River basin, and this should be complete by 2022 as well.
“West of Lake Okeechobee, as the Caloosahatchee River’s main project, will be the C-43 Reservoir that is the key element for discharges from the lake,” Gonzalez continued.
“It will capture 170,000 acre-feet of water, with a stormwater treatment component, to store runoff as well as releases from the lake, to hold water in the wet season and release it in the dry season, like right now.
“Another Southwest Florida project is the Picayune Strand Restoration Project to restore 55,000 acres of native wetland and uplands to improve the habitat as well as the water. This will plug up 50 miles of canals and remove 250 miles of roads to rehydrate the area and bring back the uplands, with the schedule calling for its completion in 2024. We are taking the next steps for the Tamiami Trail as well, with bridges and culverts, to remove the Tamiami Trail as a physical barrier that prevents water from moving into the Everglades National Park.
“South of Lake Okeechobee will be the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir that is currently in the design stage with the SFWMD, along with a stormwater treatment area and pumping station. The EAA will get water flowing into the Everglades National Park. We expect to receive Federal authorization for this by mid-May so that we can move forward with the construction efforts.”
The federal government actually issued its EAA approval the following day, on Saturday, April 18.
“We Are the Model”
“We now have close to 20 projects all together in planning, design, construction or maintenance, so we are in a fabulous place in the Everglades Restoration program in terms of not only projects but funding. The federal government for this year allocated us $235 million and that represents approximately 70% of the nation’s entire $350 million budget for these projects, so that is excellent news. To continue this momentum, for Fiscal Year 2021 we believe the federal government will allocate $250 million to our projects from the aquatic restoration budget so that we can do more. We work closely with the SFWMD and that is a big reason our budget is increasing from $100 million to $250 million, and should there be stimulus projects due to the developments on the economy from the coronavirus, we are in the position to accelerate these projects.
“We are the model throughout the nation for water projects and program implementation!”