MARTIN COUNTY — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially turned on the pumps at the C-44 Stormwater Treatment Area on Friday, filling the first cell of the STA with nutrient-laden water from the St. Lucie Canal.
The 6,300-acre wetland will treat more than 46 billion gallons of water bound for the St. Lucie estuary every year, said the governor.
The C-44 project, more than 20 years in the making, is important, said the governor, “but it’s not the only project we are undertaking.” He noted the C-43 Reservoir is under construction on the Caloosahatchee River, and the state is expediting plans for the Everglades Agricultural Area STA.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said funding provided by the state and federal governments has made it possible to move more quickly on projects that have been long planned.
The C-44 STA will give local residents and the St. Lucie estuary their “first taste of tangible relief from the contaminated local basin runoff,” said South Florida Governing Board member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippish. She noted the project was a long time coming, and said children born when the C-44 Reservoir and STA plans were first conceived are now full-fledged adults.
Col. Andrew Kelly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said synchronization and partnership between the SFWMD and the corps helped move the project forward. “It’s a great partnership,” he said.
Lt. Col. Todd Polk explained how the pumps pull the water out of the canal. The water fills up the first cell of the STA and then spills over into the other cells. The plants in the STA filter the water and help remove nutrients. The water then flows back into the St. Lucie Canal. When the C-44 Reservoir is built, it will provide a place to hold water waiting to flow through the STA. Water will constantly be flowing in and out of the STA, he said.
The SFWMD recently completed three of the six cells of the 6,300-acre treatment area and expects to have the entire STA completed next year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building a 3,400-acre reservoir next to the STA that is expected to be completed in 2021.
The C-44 Reservoir will store 50,000 acre-feet of water. The C-44 STA will treat the water stored in the reservoir before it is released into the estuary.
The first contract for the C-44 STA was awarded in 2014, said Lt. Col. Polk. Initial funding for the project was provided by Congress in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act.
Col. Kelly said the primary purpose of the C-44 Reservoir and STA is to hold and treat local basin runoff. He said since the pumps pull water from the C-44 Canal, if lake water is released into the canal at Port Mayaca, the pumps will draw in a mixture of lake water and basin runoff. Even if there is no flow from the lake, the project is needed to help clean the local basin runoff. Many of the basins that drain into the C-44 Canal have higher levels of nutrients than the water from the lake.
Since March of this year, no water has been released from the lake to the C-44 canal, so all of the water currently in the C-44 STA is local basin runoff.