Friday, January 26, 2018

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board Gets It Right: More land needed for Lake Okeechobee Reservoir (and only Gov. Rick Scott can make it happen) ... by gimleteye

The following OPED by the editorial board of the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. Excellent. The only point of difference: last legislative session Senate President Joe Negron said we need 60,000 additional acres to make the storage treatment areas big enough to clean the pollution from $1.5 billion new reservoir. Somehow, that requirement was mysteriously dropped as the bill moved through the sausage maker. Now is the last chance for this generation to fix what we've delayed fixing for three decades.

Building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is supposed to stop repeated toxic algae blooms in coastal waters when the lake’s spigot is opened to relieve pressure on its leaky dike.
But the pollution relief promised by this $1.6 billion reservoir is undercut by its proposed design — a plan crimped by Florida’s reluctance to use more sugar cane land to build it. When the lake’s water level gets too high, the reservoir is meant to be an alternative to releasing water out to sea via rivers that flow to both coasts. As we’ve seen in recent years, pollutants in the water don’t mix well with coastal estuaries and pictures of fish kills and waters covered in a green ooze don’t burnish the state’s fun-in-the-sun image.
The way it’s supposed to work, lake water drained into the reservoir would be cleaned up by directing it through pollution-filtering marshlands, before the water is used to replenish the Everglades.

But to accommodate Big Sugar and meet a timeline meant to ensure action, state water managers have proposed a design that doesn’t meet the promise.
Environmental groups say the proposed reservoir is too deep. It’s squeezed on too little land. And it doesn’t include enough marshlands needed to filter the water before sending flows south to the Everglades.

South Florida Water Management District

Given the many concerns being expressed, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislatureshould send South Florida Water Management District managers back to the drawing board.
This project — one of last year’s key legislative outcomes — represents a major building block in addressing South Florida’s drainage and water supply challenges. It’s too important and too expensive to get wrong.

A bigger reservoir footprint would allow a shallower depth, less-massive walls and a treatment area larger than what’s currently proposed.
Assembling more land wouldn’t require a spending spree with taxpayers’ money. Rather, state-owned land in the vast farming region south of the lake could be made available, though it would require terminating some leases with sugar cane growers. Publicly-owned parcels elsewhere also could be traded for land near the reservoir.
As currently designed, the Everglades Coalition, which includes more than 60 environmental advocacy groups, fears the federal government might not split the costs of the reservoir, as the state expects.
“We are deeply concerned that the limited array of alternatives identified by the District thus far will result in a reservoir plan that is neither cost-effective nor likely to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Congress,” the group wrote the governor last week.
The water district says its designs can meet the state’s goals. Its top two proposed designs, ranging in cost from $1.34 billion to $1.71 billion, call for:
• Using 16,600 acres (including 6,500 acres for water treatment) for a 78-billion-gallon, 23-foot-deep reservoir.
• Using 31,200 acres (including 11,500 acres for water treatment) for a 117-billion-gallon, 18-foot deep reservoir.
By the end of the month, the district plans to produce a modified version of the two designs that will optimize the reservoir’s ability to help Lake Okeechobee drainage and deliver clean water to the Everglades, Executive Director Ernie Marks told legislators last week.
“I want to make a better option,” he said.
The Everglades Foundation offers a better option, one worthy of careful examination and a detailed response.
The foundation proposes using about 30,000 acres for the project. That would include a 78-billion-gallon, 14-foot-deep reservoir on 17,000 acres, and a 13,000-acre stormwater treatment area.

District officials say most sugar cane growers and other landowners near the site have refused to sell, trade or leave leased land, though talks continue with a few.

But just as it took a state law to prioritize the reservoir’s construction, so will it take direction from the governor and the Legislature to ensure the water district becomes more than a reluctant shopper.
It’s only fitting that South Florida provide more land to fix the Lake Okeechobee drainage problem, since the lake waters that foul coastal waterways are a direct result of protecting South Florida from flooding.
The reservoir won’t solve all the lake’s drainage woes, but it will significantly reduce how often lake water must be dumped out to sea.
Getting the Lake Okeechobee reservoir right requires more room to store and clean water we can no longer afford to waste.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O'Hara, Elana Simms, Andy Reid and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.

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