OKEECHOBEE — The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) hosted an open house at their Okeechobee office on Aug. 1 with staff available to answer questions about the Lake Okeechobee Component A Reservoir (LOCAR) and the Lower Kissimmee Basin Stormwater Treatment Area project.
LOCAR is an above ground reservoir project. The proposed project will cover 12,000 acres of property currently owned by Lykes Bros. in Highlands County. Water from the Kissimmee River would be pumped into the C-41A canal and then pumped into the reservoir. The project will hold water up to 18 feet deep for a capacity of about 200,000 acre feet (equivalent to about 6 inches on Lake Okeechobee.)
County and city officials from around Lake Okeechobee stopped by to look at the maps and ask questions. While all agreed water storage north of Lake Okeechobee is needed, some wondered about the cost of the project.
SFWMD Everglades Policy Coordinator Jennifer Leeds said the draft report, which is expected in October, will include the estimated cost. Leeds said the ability to store water north of Lake Okeechobee will help keep the lake within it’s environmental envelope more of the time, and reduce the need for harmful discharges to the coastal estuaries. According to lake scientists, lows of 12 feet to 12.5 feet at the start of the wet season and highs of 15.5 feet at the start of the dry season are most beneficial to the lake’s ecology.
In addition, increasing water storage improves water supply for dry years.
Hendry County Commissioner Ramon Iglesias agreed more storage is needed north of the lake, but said this project won’t be done in time to save the Lake Okeechobee fisheries. He said more needs to be done now to restore the lake habitat, which has devastated by years of high water.
“I’m excited for northern storage and more capacity for water supply,” said Jake Fojitk of Florida Farm Bureau. “I am here to support CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan). I hate to see any agriculture production decrease, but excited to see water supply improvements.”
He said the combination of LOCAR and aquifer storage and recovery wells (ASRs) will help save Lake Okeechobee from damaging high water while preserving water supply for urban, environmental and agriculture needs. He said Farm Bureau is excited about ASRs because they can store a lot of water without taking much land out of agricultural production. The land planned for ASR wells as part of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan (LOWRP) is already in public ownership.
The ASR wells could store the equivalent of about 6 inches of water on Lake Okeechobee each year.
On Thursday, Aug. 4, a zoom meeting is set for 2 p.m. to review the LOCAR alternatives considered, the proposed plan, and the project benefits. Members of the public will be able to ask questions and provide public comment at the meeting. For more information, go online to sfwmd.gov and click on “news and meetings” to find the Zoom registration link.
The Lower Kissimmee Basin Stormwater Treatment Area project is a public/private partnership between SFWMD and Environmental Investment Partners (EIP). The 3,400-acre project is planned south of SR 70 and east of the Kissimmee River. It will use a combination of wetland systems and innovative technology to improve regional water quality.
The stormwater treatment areas (STAs) will operate with water around 18 inches deep explained Matt Eidson of Phillips & Jordan, the project builders. He said the berms will be 2 feet to 4 feet to meet safety standards in a 100-year flood event.
EIP representatives will be at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission to explain the project. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse, 304 N.W. Second Street, Okeechobee.
EIP has also scheduled two public meetings about the project on Aug. 29 at the Okeechobee County Civic Center on U.S. 98. The first meeting will be from 2 to 4 p.m. The second meeting will be from 5 to 7 p.m. A presentation about the project will start at 6 p.m.