Belle Glade Sun

SFWMD plans EAA reservoir on state land

Sen. Negron wants modeling to use more EAA land

Can the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir be built on land the state already owns? South Florida Water Management District officials are moving ahead with a plan to do just that.

Florida State Senator Joe Negron has expressed doubts and asked for computer modeling to use 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 in a Dec. 14 letter to SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks.

“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,” he wrote.

In a Dec. 21 letter to Sen. Negron, Mr. Marks pointed out SFWMD is complying with the requirements and the timeline established by Senate Bill 10, which was signed into law earlier this year. He explained that the district has looked for the “willing sellers” that SB10 requires, and has not had much luck in that area.

SB10 does not allow SFWMD to take land for the project by eminent domain.

“The district’s professional engineers and scientists are true leaders in the field of restoration science, and they are equal to the task asked of them by Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature,” wrote Mr. Marks.

“As you recognize, the ultimate success of this important undertaking has required the district to coordinate with a broad coalition, including state and federal agencies, tribal nations, environmental organizations and individual members of the public. Dialogue with interested parties has been comprehensive and memorialized in numerous public meetings and on the district’s interactive project website.

“At times, land acquisition has dominated the discussion. The district has not ignored this topic. The district has solicited landowners in the EM with the goal of identifying willing sellers. As of this letter we have not heard back from all parties. The responses we have received, in general, have not identified willing sellers relevant to this project. However, as we continue forward, the district will take advantage of opportunities such as purchases or swaps of state lands should those opportunities present themselves through the district’s solicitation or otherwise. In order to address this uncertainty and achieve the state’s ambitious schedule, the district has used its planning period to model four options that maximize use of district-owned land and the land of adjacent sellers who have not rejected overtures to acquire their land. I am pleased to report that the results of the district’s technical work are very encouraging.

“In conjunction with other authorized Everglades Restoration projects, the EM Reservoir could reduce harmful discharges to the northern estuaries upwards of 54 percent in comparison with existing conditions. Equally important is that each alternative is expected to achieve the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan goal of an average of 98 billion gallons per year of clean water being delivered south to the Everglades,” he stated.

As explained during the nine public hearings held about the EAA reservoir proposal this year, the success of the plan to reduce the need for harmful freshwater discharges to the coastal estuaries depends on funding and completion the Central Everglades Planning Project, which will increase the flow from Lake Okeechobee south, and also increase the capacity to move water from the stormwater treatment areas south of the lake to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Currently the southern flow from the lake is limited to the capacity of the existing canals, and much of the flow to Florida Bay is blocked by the Tamiami Trail. CEPP includes increasing the capacity to flow water south from the lake as well removal of part of the old Tamiami Trail.

Without CEPP, the EAA reservoir would be static storage that could fill up during the rainy season from direct rainfall and local basin runoff.

The EAA reservoir designs currently under consideration use land already in state ownership to meet the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) requirement for storage south of Lake Okeechobee. Approximately 25 percent of the EAA is already in state ownership.

Each of these alternatives would be considered a change to the plans for the CEPP. Capital Cost to implement CEPP without any of the EAA reservoir alternatives is $1.02 billion. The alternatives under consideration are:

• 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. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.42 billion.

• 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. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.44 billion.

• 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. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.89 billion.

• 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. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.95 billion.

• Alternative C360C: This alternative would have the same benefits as Alternative R360C, as well as all the benefits contained in CERP. Capital cost to implement CEPP with this alternative: $1.89 billion.

Keeping within the timeline set by Senate Bill 10 to expedite construction of the EAA reservoir, SFWMD will present the alternatives and their recommendations to the Florida Legislature on Jan. 8.