Pieces of the Puzzle

SB10 and the EAA Reservoir Progress Report

In May, we celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 10 through both the Florida House and Senate and Gov. Rick Scott signing SB10 into law. The success of SB10 was a hard fought victory championed by Senate President Joe Negron (R) and sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley (R) and Representative Thad Altman (R), with the support of conservation groups, civic groups, businesses, recreational and commercial fishing interests, and many concerned members of the public.

SB10 expedites and funds the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir, one of the original Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects and outlines an aggressive timeline to make the EAA Reservoir a reality.

The EAA Reservoir is a critical missing piece of the puzzle. Located south of Lake Okeechobee, it will provide much needed storage, treatment, and conveyance of water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay, and help reduce the damaging discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The need for southern storage has been continually reinforced — from 2016’s record January rainfall and subsequent devastating algae blooms to the events of the past several months. Heavy rainfall in August, followed by Hurricane Irma in September, has filled Lake Okeechobee to its highest levels in years. Water flowing into the Lake from the north, as well as some backpumping from the south and other areas, was exacerbated by the record amounts of rainfall from those two climactic events.

As water can flow into Lake Okeechobee six times faster than it can be released, the Lake has been hovering around the critical 17 feet level for weeks. Accordingly, in order to relieve the pressure on the Herbert Hoover Dike for public safety, the Army Corps of Engineers has been making “maximum practicable releases” to both estuaries. The estuaries are continuing to suffer the consequences of having no viable outlet to the south, with dark freshwater plumes reaching miles into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic respectively.

Widespread ecological damage is occurring in both the estuaries and the Lake. The dark turbid freshwater is upsetting the salinity in the estuaries, depositing sediment, reducing light availability for seagrasses, killing oysters, and bringing pollutants. The Lake’s ecology is also suffering because the ideal water levels for a healthy marsh ecosystem is between 12.5 and 15.5 feet. The prolonged higher lake levels can drown vegetation and harm wildlife.

With the destruction of the estuaries and the Lake’s ecology, and the threat to public safety of high lake levels as the backdrop, we are relieved and happy to report that rapid progress is being made towards meeting the deadlines in SB10. Four public meetings have been held over the past several weeks as the South Florida Water Management District kicks off the feasibility study to develop alternatives for the reservoir.

The District is acting under the authority of Section 203 of the Water Resources Development Act, which gives a non-Federal agency the ability to develop a feasibility study for subsequent review and approval by the Army Corps. The public meetings have included significant dialogue and questions from interested members of the public, and we expect the first set of potential alternatives to be revealed on November 15.

Those who are interested in weighing in during this part of project scoping should do so before the public comment deadline on November 22, 2017.

Once the public comment period ends, the District will be developing a draft feasibility study by the end of January and reporting on progress to the Florida House and Senate on or before January 9, 2018. After January, another comment period will open before a finalized feasibility study is reviewed and approved by the Army Corps in March 2018.

Some of the questions that will be answered through the planning and technical modeling process are:

  • What is the configuration of the reservoir and water quality treatment component, how many acres of each, and how deep will the reservoir be?
  • Will more land be needed in order to meet the goals of SB10?
  • How will the current canals need to be altered in order to convey the water from Lake Okeechobee to the reservoir? Will additional conveyance be necessary?

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is remaining fully engaged on this issue, one that is so crucial for the future health of our estuaries and the Everglades. We will keep you updated as the project moves forward. Thank you for your support of SB10 last legislative session — your involvement helped make expediting this project a reality!

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Ensuring that our region’s leaders have the tools to make informed decisions is a critical role of the Conservancy. The Policy team ensures the proper stewardship of Southwest Florida’s natural resources by actively taking on regional issues to make a difference.

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Conservancy of SWFL

Conservancy of SWFL

Protecting Southwest Florida's unique natural environment and quality of life...now and forever.

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