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Guest Column: Stop the harm – fund it now!

By Staff | Aug 29, 2013

What’s going on with our water ?

A wet spring and very wet early summer have delivered more rain than the greater Everglades ecosystem – that stretches from Orlando to Florida Bay, Fort Myers to Stuart – can hold.

Drainage and flood control projects created in the 1940s were designed to drain water off the land to accommodate growth and development in South Florida. During this very wet rainy season, those engineering projects are very effectively dumping excess freshwater into the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The water drains so fast that water levels in Lake O rise six times faster than they can be discharged, endangering the integrity of the Dike around the lake and necessitating damaging water releases to the estuaries to lower the lake.

SCCF staff is monitoring and tracking water conditions with our west coast partners, providing information through weekly reports and conference calls with water managers about damage occurring to our river, estuary and coastal waters and sharing recommendations on needed changes. Through these efforts we are educating, empowering and pressing water managers and elected officials to make changes to operations and infrastructure to improve conditions in the Caloosahatchee.

Drainage projects created 70 years ago for flood control no longer serve our state or community interests or economies. Short-term and long-term solutions need to be implemented at both the Federal and State levels to change the outcomes and prevent devastation of our marine life, beaches, local economies and quality of life.

We need your help now to speak up for the health of our natural communities, our local economy and our quality of life.

State priorities

Declare a State of Emergency to send excess water into the EAA, the only land not currently saturated or flooded in the greater Everglades ecosystem. Private farms in the EAA have crop insurance yet are being protected from flooding while our public crop in the estuary has no protection and has been devastated even though public money has invested in restoration of oysters and seagrass.

Benefit: A large percentage of excess water being lost to tide and destroying the estuaries could be captured, stored, treated and fed into systems to the south.

Finish the U.S. Sugar Land Purchase. Short term accomplishment to purchase the land under the three-year option that expires this October. This short term action will allow longer term planning for the most significant restoration actions. South of Lake O we need 1.5 million acre feet of storage. The EAA lands together with the CEPP project will provide that capacity in the natural historic gravity flowway out of Lake Okeechobee.

Benefits: Finish the U.S. Sugar purchase started in 2008 via the option to purchase the remaining 153,200 south of Lake O before the option expires in October 2013. This ultimate solution of restoring flow south will provide the most significant project to manage water more effectively on both the high and low side for the benefit of the estuaries and water flow to parched systems including Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and Florida Bay.

Build Caloosahatchee Storage Projects before the 2014 rainy season. The Caloosahatchee watershed needs approximately 450,000 acre ft of storage to capture and treat watershed runoff (separate from Lake O flows) which accounts for a significant volume of excess water in the estuary.

Since the estuary devastation experienced in 2005 a number of projects have been conceived and evaluated for the Caloosahatchee watershed. A short term solution is to make these projects operational by next year’s rainy season. Projects include:

Lake Hicpochee north and south

C-43 Interim and emergency storage

Nicodemus slough

Spanish Creek/Four Corners

North Six Mile Cypress Preserve

Benefits: Adds approximately half the needed capacity to capture, store and treat excess water from our watershed improving flows, timing and water quality, all critical needs.

Immediately Revise SFWMD Operational Protocols. Land purchased in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (KCOL) was to allow additional storage in the headwaters of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, but operational schedules have not been updated to allow/implement the additional storage capacity. An immediate solution is for SFWMD and COE to change the timing and increase storage in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and watershed.

In addition, emergency operations should be developed for these high flow conditions to implement emergency water storage in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and stop all backpumping/backflowing from the EAA into Lake O. We must protect the public crop of fisheries, shellfish and the food chain above private crop interests that benefit from crop insurance.

Benefits: Holding water in the headwaters reduces high flows into Lake O, allows water to be fed into the lower system by gravity, increases wetland habitat in upper chain of lakes and maintains aquifers in a region where human water demands are high. Holding water south takes advantage of the only large storage capacity, reduces excess water lost to tide, provides water treatment, reduces impacts to estuaries and provides supply to feed water south where freshwater supply is needed for Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

Immediately augment SFWMD monitoring of biological impacts to estuaries including oysters, seagrasses and species diversity from the large releases and redefine the estuary boundaries to accommodate the enlarged geographic range during releases.

Encourage Governor Scott to Pursue RESTORE Act funding for C-43 and Tamiami Trail. These projects need to be built and using RESTORE Act funding avoids delays and hurdles in awaiting Congressional authorization of a WRDA bill and appropriations.

Federal priorities

Press the U.S. House to Pass WRDA. The 2013 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) includes the Caloosahatchee C-43 West Basin Reservoir project that will provide 170,000 acre-feet of storage within the Caloosahatchee basin to help address high and low flow issues. WRDA is the only way to get water projects approved for construction and funding across the nation. It has been six years since the last WRDA and it is needed to authorize long term storage projects to help reduce high flow conditions.

Two needed projects are the C-43 reservoir for the Caloosahatchee and the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), to restore water flow south to the Everglades.

Fast track Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) and get congressional support and funding for the project. Phase I of the project will move approximately 200,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee and build the first phase of infrastructure to reduce some of the damaging flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Fund the next 5.5 miles of Tamiami Trail bridging. Additional flows cannot be initiated out of Lake O to the south until the flow capacity under US 41/Tamiami Trail is available. This shovel ready project is fundamental to achieving the infrastructure to reduce flows to the estuary.

In addition to federal funding pursue RESTORE Act funding for this project which will help restore freshwater flow to Florida Bay and allow excess water currently dumped on the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie to move south adding resiliency to the Everglades to prevent salt water intrusion.

Get Involved – Get Informed – Take Action

Track and submit comments to the Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee basin.

The first hearing of the Select committee was Aug. 22 in Stuart. We urged the committee to support and initiate the above listed state and federal actions and conduct a similar hearing here on the west coast.

Plan to attend a Town Hall Meeting hosted by Lee County and the City of Sanibel on Thursday, Sept. 5 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the New EOC Situation Room, 2675 Ortiz Avenue, north of Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers.

Sign petition to protect funding for Florida land and water! This amendment will protect funding for state land purchases and leases that can be used to help fund the project priotiries we’ve listed above.

Call, write or email! Emails can be found at www.sccf.org on the “Current Issues” green box on the right, under “Government Contact Emails.”

You can also learn more about the connection between Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee, and check the weekly Caloosahatchee Condition Reports prepared by the west coast partners.

Thanks for stepping up and speaking out. Together we can change the way it’s always been done!