WEST PALM BEACH — How will the water stored in the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir be used? The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board met online for an EAA Reservation Rule Development Workshop on Aug. 6.
Jennifer Brown with the Office of Counsel explained the statutory process for water reservations. Florida Statute 373.223(4) states the SFWMD Governing Board may protect water from being allocated to consumptive use in the quantity needed to protect fish and wildlife or public health and safety, she said.
“We do water reservations by rule,” she explained. The case law says all existing legal users are protected, provided they are not contrary to the public interest.
She said water reserved to protect fish and wildlife includes the restoration of natural systems that provide fish and wildlife habitat.
She said the water reservation rule must be adopted before the Project Partnership Agreement is signed, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot start construction of the reservoir until that agreement is signed. (SFWMD already started construction of the stormwater treatment area that will work in conjunction with the reservoir.)
“That is what is driving our schedule,” Brown added.
She said they hope to:
• Make the water reservation rule effective by Dec. 31 2020;
She said they will go to the SFWMD board in September to ask them to publish the proposed rule.
Brown said water reservations are already in place for Fakahatchee Estuary, Picayune Strand, the North Fork of the St. Lucie River, nearshore Central Biscayne Bay and the Caloosahatchee River C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir.
Don Medellin of the SFWMD Applied Science Bureau said the rule includes language about the state law requirements as they relate to increased water supplies from Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects. An addition to the rule clarifies water will not be available until the reservoir is fully constructed and operational and certified by the governing board.
There will be additional opportunities for public engagement in the rule development process at upcoming meetings of the governing board.
Alberto Naya of the SFWMD Water Use Bureau said they have reviewed comments from the first workshop on the reservation rule. He said the rule only applies to “new” water available from the reservoir.
He said model simulations of the EAA reservoir, together with existing and planned infrastructure and a modified Lake Okeechobee schedule including the EAA reservoir, could discharge 82,000 acre-feet of surface water on an annual average basis through the northern Structure S-628. Water released from that structure is not reserved. This water will be discharged to the Miami and North New River canals via the inflow and outflow canal.
The EAA reservoir, which is currently in the design phase by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be 4 miles long and 5 miles wide. It will pull water from Lake Okeechobee through the Miami Canal and the North New River Canal. Once in the reservoir, water can flow out in three directions that will benefit the Everglades: west into the new EAA reservoir STA (currently under construction); south into STA 3-4; and east into the Flow Equalization Basin (FEB). Water from the reservoir can also be sent north through the S-628 structure back into the Miami Canal.
The new EAA reservoir can store water 22 feet deep, totaling 240,000 acre-feet of water. Water can be periodically released so the reservoir can be refilled.
Lesli Waugh, of SFWMD, explained 825,000 acre-feet can be captured and released annually from the reservoir and STA including existing water supply and “new” water. She said this will provide an annual average of 370,000 acre-feet of additional water to the Everglades.
Public comments on the rule are due Aug. 27. Comments can be submitted to Toni Edwards at email@example.com.
The technical document will be finalized Aug. 31.
The SFWMD Governing Board will consider the proposed rule at their Sept. 10 meeting. The rule adoption hearing will be at the Nov. 12 SFWMD Governing Board meeting.