Just when it looked like the long-discussed Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir was finally on it’s way to becoming a reality, somebody’s trying to change the plan … again.
An EAA reservoir has been part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) approved by Congress in 2000. The Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) called for a study on the project to being in 2021.
In 2004, Governor Jeb Bush’s administration advanced a plan to speed up construction of the EAA reservoir as part of the “Acceler8.”
The planned called for the EAA reservoir to be completed by 2008, using land acquired from the Talisman Sugar Company and land traded to the state by other sugar companies. A reservoir to hold 190,000 acre feet of water was to be built on the former Talisman Sugar property. Construction on this project started. But in 2007, a group of environmentalists filed a lawsuit and work on the reservoir was suspended. By the time the lawsuit was dropped, Governor Charlie Crist was in office. Gov. Crist announced his own River of Grass plan for the Everglades, and the EAA reservoir was no longer a priority.
In 2016, following a particularly wet year in which billions of gallons of excess freshwater was sent east and west to the coastal estuaries, lowering the salinity levels and setting the stage for a massive algae bloom on the east coast, Senator Joe Negron led a campaign to speed up construction of the EAA reservoir.
After much debate in the Florida Senate, a plan was approved to use land the state already owned for the reservoir, and to seek land from willing sellers.
Since SB 10 was approved by the Legislature in April 2017. With great fanfare, Governor Rick Scott held the signing ceremony on the Herbert Hoover Dike.
Over the past 8 months, SFWMD staff has been following the dictates of that legislation, coming up with options to provide the required storage, and holding the required public meetings.
On Dec. 12, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) staff conducted the district’s eighth public meeting on the EAA reservoir, and presented stakeholders and interested parties with model results, detailing projected benefits of the alternative plans.
The results show each of the project configurations presented reduce damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the northern coastal estuaries and meet the goals of the CERP for sending 300,000 acre-feet of treated water south into the Everglades each year.
“This governing board and district staff have been steadfast in meeting the aggressive timelines set forth by Senate Bill 10, while ensuring the public is part of the process and providing us with feedback every step of the way,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O’Keefe at that meeting.
“The release of these latest model results is an enormous milestone for a project that will help reduce damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries and work in conjunction with our ongoing and future planned Everglades restoration initiatives.”
The alternative designs for the project include:
• Alternative R240A: This alternative would store 240,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 10,100-acre reservoir on the eastern side of the A-2 parcel and a 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area (STA) on the western side of the A-2 parcel. This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging discharges to coastal estuaries by 50 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway.
• Alternative R240B: This alternative would store 240,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 10,100-acre reservoir on the western side of the A-2 parcel and a 6,500-acre STA on the eastern side of the parcel. This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries by 50 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway.
• Alternative R360C: This alternative would store 360,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 19,700-acre reservoir on the eastern side of the A-2 parcel and the entire A-1 parcel. It would use 11,500 acres on the western side of the A-2 parcel for an STA to properly treat stormwater to meet state water quality standards.
This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries by 52 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway.
• Alternative R360D: This alternative would store 360,000 acre-feet of water by utilizing a 19,700-acre reservoir on the entire A-2 parcel and the northern portion of the A-1 parcel, while using the southern portion of the A-1 parcel for an 11,500-acre STA.
This alternative would reduce the volume of damaging estuary discharges to the coastal estuaries by 52 percent in conjunction with completion of all authorized Everglades restoration projects already underway.
• Alternative C360C: This alternative would have the same benefits as Alternative R360C, as well as all the benefits contained in CERP.
The process of planning for the reservoir began as Senate Bill 10. Earlier this year, the bill was authorized by the Florida Legislature, an effort led by Senate President Joe Negron, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
A detailed report on the district’s findings regarding all of the project alternatives, including benefits and estimated costs, will be sent to the legislature in January in accordance with state law.
In a Dec. 14 letter to SFWMD director Ernie Marks, Senator Joe Negron asked SFWMD to consider changing the plan dictated by Senate Bill 10 – a bill that he sponsored – and find a way to build a reservoir with a larger footprint.
“I have a concern that the initial modeling may be unnecessarily constrained by using a limited footprint or that utilizing the A-1 parcel might trigger the need to renegotiate the restoration strategies consent decrees,” wrote Sen. Negron.
“The bill, now law, anticipates use of the A-2 and potentially the A-1 parcel and lands to the west of the two parcels. The law also emphasizes termination of leases, land swaps, and land acquisition if additional land is necessary for the EAA reservoir project.
“What I hope to see from the District is a proposal that is workable, that we can make a reality as expeditiously as possible to decrease the need for harmful discharges to the estuaries. If the District needs to be flexible with the footprint to put an effective reservoir plan into action, I hope it will consider using any additional land available, if necessary. It was our goal as the Legislature to give the District the tools it needs to develop a plan that is realistic and will ultimately receive approval from our partners in the federal government.
“Because of the law’s emphasis on meeting the necessary water quality requirements, I anticipate that an agreement with the federal government can be reached if the A-1 parcel is repurposed for the EAA reservoir including water quality treatment features.
“I know water quality modeling has been an integral part of your planning work to date, and I commend you and your staff for that.
“If the consent decrees require any modification, I would urge the District to start those conversations early so that those revisions can be made contemporaneously with the development of the reservoir.”
SB10 requires SFWMD to use land already in public ownership (about 25 percent of the EAA is already in public ownership), and to seek additional land from willing sellers.
The bill does not allow SFWMD to take private land through eminent domain.
In public meetings to discuss the EAA plans, SFWMD officials have stated that they have looked, unsuccessfully, for “willing sellers.”
The state has already terminated leases on the state-owned property. According to the SFWMD Real Estate officials, there simply isn’t any more “available” land, and SB10 prohibits taking land by eminent domain. The SFWMD plan, which will be presented to the legislature in 2018, uses land already in state ownership.
The district will host its ninth public meeting on Thursday, Dec. 21, in West Palm Beach. This meeting will also be webcast live on SFWMD’s website at sfwmd.gov.
If you would like to provide comments but cannot attend the meeting, you can submit feedback via email to EAAreservoir@sfwmd.gov or through handwritten correspondence to:
Mike Albert, Project Manager
South Florida Water Management District
3301 Gun Club Road, MSC 8312
West Palm Beach, FL 33406
For modeling data and more information on the meetings, including agendas and presentations, visitsfwmd.gov/eaareservoir.
To learn more about SFWMD’s ongoing planning projects that are part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, visit www.sfwmd.gov/cerpplanning.