Guest Commentary: State, federal governments working together on C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir
As a South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member, I heard loud and clear when residents of the Southwest Florida said completing a reservoir to store and deliver water to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary was their top environmental priority within the basin. With support and funding from Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, SFWMD responded by getting an early start on construction of the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir last year almost a decade earlier than recently planned.
With construction already under way, the SFWMD Governing Board will consider at the May meeting an agreement that protects Florida’s investment in the project by ensuring the State gets credit for this work as a 50/50 partnership with the federal government.
When this massive facility is finished, up to 170,000 acre-feet of water will be stored and delivered during dry periods to help maintain a healthy flow of fresh water to the estuary, which is the condition we experience more frequently than high flow. During the rainy season, the reservoir will store some of the excess stormwater and federal regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee and the basin, helping to reduce excessive freshwater flows to the estuary. While some would diminish the value of the C-43 reservoir, by itself, the project will resolve more than 70 percent of the instances where the river does not meet the minimum flows and levels necessary for a healthy ecology.
My Governing Board colleagues and I are supremely confident these planned benefits will prove beneficial for the river. We have this confidence because, for years, this project was subject to the closest scrutiny by top scientists and engineers in the field. Design plans and water quality were tested in the real world, and the project was vetted and approved by Congress and our Legislature. Once it’s complete, we have the flexibility to amend operations and even design features to account for variables that may arise.
Despite the long-lived, intense public review, the Fort Myers News-Press and a small number of detractors continue to assert false claims that this reservoir will have minimal impact, or will be plagued with algae blooms and water quality issues. The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that this project is well designed, critical to ameliorating some of the unintended impacts our 100 year old regional system, and that it deserves the priority we have given it over other worthy restoration projects in other parts of the state.
Yes, the C-43 reservoir is just one component of the overall solution to restore the river, which includes water quality improvement, storage and operational changes to the water management system. However, it is a crucial component that will absolutely provide tangible benefits to the river and estuary for decades to come. I, along with the residents of the Southwest Florida, want to see it completed, and completed as quickly as possible so we can move on to other restoration projects within the system.
-Mitch Hutchcraft is a governing board member of South Florida Water Management District representing Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Highlands, Glades, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceolo and Polk counties.