WEST PALM BEACH — Plans for a reservoir in Highlands County were well received by many at the Aug. 17 meeting of the South Florida Water Management (SFWMD) Governing Board.
The Lake Okeechobee Component A Reservoir (LOCAR) will store up to 200,000 acre feet of water. Water managers hope to have the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement completed in time for the project to be considered in the 2024 federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
Jennifer Leeds, of SFWMD, said while SFWMD will take the lead on the project, it will be designed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers design standards for safety. It will be designed to capture major storm events and to withstand hurricane force winds.
Storing water north of the lake will help keep Lake O from rising above the level that damages the lake's ecology. It will also provide water supply to the lake in times of drought.
She said the ecological envelope ranges from 11.5 feet above sea level to 15.5 feet, depending on the time of year.
Data shows this project "does a really good job of knocking down the higher lake levels," she explained.
“Finally, something north of the lake,” said Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers Florida.
“This is the most important project we’ve had here before this board since the Kissimmee River restoration,” Cook continued. “Once we have control of the water going into the lake, we’ll have control of the whole system.”
Cook said the LOCAR reservoir will also provide recreational opportunities for the public.
“Recreation on this reservoir will be incredible,” he said.
He encouraged the board to include boat ramps, parking and public access in the plans.
“We have been a longtime advocate for storage solutions north of the lake,” said Caitlin Newcamp of Audubon Florida.
Slowing the flow from the north into the big lake is key to managing the system, said Nyla Pipes of One Florida.
“We can fix the drain all we want, but if we don’t fix the faucet, we’re in trouble,” she said.
“There is a lot going on north of the lake right now,” said Governing Board Member Ben Butler, who lives in Highlands County. He noted the proposed reservoir is about half a mile from his family’s dairy.
He said the Savings Clause guarantees Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects like LOCAR will not impact flood protection as well as not reduce water supply.
“Flood protection that was provided in the system in December 2000 cannot be impacted by CERP,” he explained.
“Stacking that water on top of the ground, locals are concerned about seepage,” said Butler.
They have assured me they are going to make it work. The assurances are there that neighboring landowners will not be impacted.”
“This is an important project,” said Governing Board Member Charlotte Roman. It is imperative that they find solutions to keep the lake in the ecological envelope, she continued.