What makes storing water north of Lake Okeechobee so important -- the reason it's so favored over southern storage by South Florida Water Management District engineers -- is its complete flexibility.
"You can capture water in extreme-wet periods and release it back into the lake when it's dry," Matt Morrison told the District's Governing Board during Thursday's roll-out of the first round of modeling for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project.
"More than anything, northern storage is going to help in those really punishing back-to-back year events, which are real challenges to our estuaries and their chance to recover."
Morrison, bureau chief of federal policy and coordination for the SFWMD, laid out each of three alternatives, including maps with possible above-ground storage, ASR wells and deep-well injection components, and said a fourth alternative offered by the Seminole Tribe in Brighton is still being evaluated.
The Watershed Project was developed to do four things north of the lake:
- increase water storage capacity;
- improve the quantity and timing of discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers;
- restore/create habitat to increase the "spacial extent" and functionality of wetlands; and
- improve existing and future water supply.
"And what we're doing here is consistent with the Integrated Delivery Schedule," Morrison explained. "The sequencing provides planning and implementation timelines so the beginning of one element coincides with the progress or completion of others."
Board members liked what they heard and one by one expressed their enthusiasm.
Member Melanie Peterson reiterated the importance of project "sequencing" and keeping the IDS on track. "It's like building a house," she said. "It's as important as putting the roof on before you hang the wallpaper in the kitchen."
By adhering to the Integrated Delivery Schedule, projects for northern storage will keep a minimum of 50 percent of lake discharges out of the St. Lucie River, the Watershed Project's modeling shows.
Water sent south from Lake O stays south.
After the meeting, when asked if the southern reservoir was ever intended to solve the problem of lake discharges, Director of Everglades Policy and Coordination Ernie Marks explained that no standalone restoration project will solve the massive discharges problem.
He said the plan for the ill-fated 60,000-acre A-1 was conceived in 2000, before lake discharges were considered a priority.
"The plan was basically to hydrate Florida Bay and for agriculture -- for 20,000 acres to go for environmental needs, 20,000 for the water supply and 20,000 for ag and the environment," said Marks.
Not until 2013, a year of devastating releases and algal blooms, did anyone emphasize the need to include in CERP planning a stop to discharges.
By then, the district had halted work on the $800 million reservoir, first citing a separate lawsuit by environmental groups forcing Florida to reduce pollution flowing into the Everglades, then Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial deal to buy out U.S. Sugar Corporation's land inventory.
The halt to the A-1 Reservoir -- on which $300 million already had been spent -- set back Everglades restoration for years. It is why today many are edgy, fearful of "the next shiny thing" that will upset the apple cart, changing the order of CERP projects -- again.
Said Peterson after Thursday's Governing Board meeting, "Because of the harsh lesson learned from past disruptions of approved plans, I strongly advocate for following the publicly planned, scientifically based and taxpayer-conscious Integrated Delivery Schedule.
"I urge all Floridians to champion efforts that maintain the schedule and complete its projects. If this rational schedule of sequencing, constructing and operating changes, these projects will be delayed, while others face ultimate termination.
"History will repeat itself," she said.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith