South Florida Water Management District staff were in emergency-operations mode Wednesday to control severely flooded Everglades water conservation areas (WCAs) and relieve inundated stormwater treatment areas (STAs).
Heavy June rainfall throughout South Florida, with some areas receiving more than 2.5 times the average, has increased stormwater to more than triple the capacity of the STAs in the southern Everglades -- particularly in Water Conservation Area 3A in western Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Drainage canals that discharge water to tide are working at maximum capacity, the District has said.
To send more water south as it once flowed naturally, the state had to ask permission from federal authorities to pump water into drier portions of Everglades National Park, then out into Florida Bay.
“It’s an emergency in the Everglades,” Ron Bergeron, commissioner for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. “If we don’t pull this trigger, there may be nothing left to save.”
The trigger's been pulled.
Water managers are calling the June deluge a 100-year storm event. Click here to see a video of flooding in the water conservation areas.
South Florida communities are threatened, but it's the wildlife that faces the more difficult challenges now. Fortunately, approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was granted. And now the District is using structures not previously available as well as taking several other steps to send as much water possible to tide to protect animals trying to cope in the flooded conservation areas.
If high water levels persist beyond 60 days, survival of animal species is put at risk. If they persist beyond 90 days, survival of plant species, including tree islands, is put at risk. These risks prompted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to close Water Conservation Area 3A from recreational use and Florida Department of Environmental Protection to issue an Emergency Order last week to protect wildlife from flooding.
"I've already seen wildlife in distress," Broward County herbologist Roland Mackey told Sunshine State News. "I've seen deer stranded on tree islands, and that's not supposed to happen this early into the season. We've only had a month of heavy rain, but it's gathering so fast."
"Given the enormity of the ongoing emergency situation in Water Conservation Area 3, the District and our federal partners have responded with emergency deviations to protect wildlife," confirmed South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chairman Dan O'Keefe. "Whether federal or state, it is each water manager's responsibility to do everything in their power to lower the water levels and protect this area from further harm."
The emergency deviations approved by the Corps in response to this emergency allow SFWMD to send more water to tide using the S-197 structure in Miami-Dade County, as well as increasing pumping at the S-332D pump station and allowing the use of the S-343A and B and S-344 structures to move more water out of the conservation areas to Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve.
In addition to the Corps-approved emergency deviations, SFWMD is also taking several other actions to lower water levels and reduce the risk of flooding during this emergency, including:
- Maximizing discharges from Water Conservation Area 1 to tide through the Hillsboro Canal in Palm Beach County.
- Maximizing discharges from Water Conservation Area 2A to tide through the C-14 Canal in Broward County.
- Maximizing discharges from Water Conservation Area 2A to tide through the North New River Canal in Broward County.
- Maximizing discharges from Water Conservation Area 3A to tide through the Miami Canal in Dade County.
- Maximizing discharges through the S-333 structure at the southern end of Water Conservation Area 3A to Everglades National Park.
- Releasing water through S-334 structure to the South Dade Conveyance System where it is being sent to tide.
- Using gravity to send water that would otherwise be pumped into Water Conservation Area 3A to tide. The S-13 Pump Station is also being used to pump water during high tide when it would be impossible to use gravity.
- Moving water from the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin in Palm Beach County to Lake Okeechobee through the North New River Canal.
- Moving water from Stormwater Treatment Area 2 to Lake Okeechobee through the North New River Canal.
- Moving water from Water Conservation Area 1 in Palm Beach County to tide through the C-51 Canal.
- Moving water from Water Conservation Area 1 in Palm Beach County to Lake Okeechobee through the L-8 Canal.
- Maximizing flows out of Water Conservation Area 3A through the S-344, S-343A and 343B structures.
- Constraints removed from S-199, S-200 and S-737 structures, moving water into Everglades National Park from the C-111 Canal.
Some of these actions are unprecedented. There are federal limits on how much water can enter Everglades National Park in order to avoid hurting endangered species, such as the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, which environmentalists say nests in the path of the water.
The Corps also plans to implement several actions in response to the high water emergency including:
- Reducing flows from Water Conservation Area 1 into Water Conservation Area 2A.
- Opening structures S-12A and B, increasing the amount of water released from Water Conservation Area 3A into Everglades National Park.
Additionally, SFWMD says it has begun daily inspections along the stretch of the L-37 Levee, bordering Water Conservation Area 3A in Broward County between Interstate 75 and Griffin Road, to ensure its integrity.
SFWMD safety and operating procedures require checks of the levee when water levels exceed 11.48 feet. High water levels in the conservation area can put pressure on the levee and must be monitored. In 2014, the district reinforced several sections of the Broward East Coast Protective Levee, including the L-37, by installing a filter berm that used sand to minimize the impact of seepage on the levee.
The District has provided tools for Floridians to stay on top of the flooding emergency:
View a map of the actions being taken to address the high water emergency.
View correspondence between SFWMD and the Corps regarding actions to address the high water emergency.
Learn more about SFWMD's flood protection system.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith. Most of the information for this story was provided by the South Florida Water Management District.
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