OKEECHOBEE – Plans for a reservoir north of Lake Okeechobee continue to move forward.
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hope to have the plan for the Lake Okeechobee Component A Reservoir (LOCAR) approved in time for inclusion for federal funding in the 2024 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
Congress can pass a WRDA every two years, but sometimes has gaps as long as seven years between WRDAs. The most recent WRDA passed in 2024.
LOCAR is a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), approved by Congress in 2000. CERP is funded with a 50-50 state-federal match. SFWMD is the state partner. USACE is the federal partner.
At an Oct. 26 public meeting at Indian River State College in Okeechobee, SFWMD Governing Board Member Ben Butler said the CERP authorization process has taken longer than anyone planned, but progress is being made.
SFWMD Lead Project Manager Elizabeth Caneja said the project will store water during wet periods when there is excess water in the system and release water in dry periods as needed. This will keep water in the system for environmental and water supply uses rather than send the excess water to tide.
Pumps will pull water into the reservoir from the Kissimmee River, below the southernmost last water control structure. Technically, this is considered pulling water from Lake Okeechobee.
Two inflow pumps in the C-41 Canal will have a capacity to pump 1,600 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water. Outflow structures, which will operate by gravity flow, will have a capacity of 3,000 cfs.
The 12,316-acre above-ground reservoir will hold up to 200,000 acre feet of water. It will be surrounded by a berm approximately 33 to 34 feet high. A 60-foot cutoff wall will go through the earthen berm into the ground to prevent seepage.
Storing more water north of Lake Okeechobee will keep the big lake within its ecological envelope of 12.5 feet to 15.5 feet more often, said Caneja, reducing the time the lake suffers from extreme high or extreme low stages.
She said the reservoir will also mean few water supply cutbacks in times of drought.
“Storage north of the lake is the only way to improve the system,” said Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers, Florida. “People call the EAA reservoir the ‘crown jewel,’ of CERP. It’s not,” he said. Storage south of Lake O will not significantly impact the lake or the estuaries, he added.
He said the lack of capacity to send water south under the Tamiami Trail will continue to stall progress of CERP. “Until we can put 18,500 cfs, 24-7, 365 days a year under the Tamiami Trail, we will continue to spend billions on a lot of Band-Aids,” he said.
“South Florida has a people problem,” said Bob Butler, whose dairy is near the project site. “I’m tired of hearing cows and row crops and sugar being blamed. It’s a people problem,” he said.