JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs a letter of support from the South Florida Water Management District soon to meet the early December deadline for submission of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) for federal approval. The SFWMD Governing Board discussed LOWRP at its Nov. 14 meeting, but took no action.
Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the corps Jacksonville district, said it would be desirable to have the LOWRP packet completed in time for it to be in position for potential funding in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act, should Congress pass a WRDA in 2020. (Congress has the option to pass a WRDA every two years, but does not always do so. The last one passed in 2018.)
LOWRP plans started in 2000. The project was put on hold in 2006. Planning started again in 2016.
Col. Kelly said additional studies have already added almost a year to the process.
Earlier this year, the State of Florida approved funding of $50 million to the South Florida Water Management District to get a jump start on the water storage north of Lake Okeechobee planned in LOWRP. Florida Senate Bill 2500 states: “The funds in Specific Appropriation 1642A shall be distributed to the South Florida Water Management District for the design, engineering and construction of the specific project components designed to achieve the greatest reductions in harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries as identified in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan LOWRP Draft Integrated Project Implementation Report and Environmental Impact Statement dated July 2018. The South Florida Water Management District is directed to negotiate a pre-partnership credit agreement with the United States Army Corps of Engineers as authorized under Section 6004 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.”
This state funding, by law, can only be used for projects already identified for LOWRP. In LOWRP, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes a shallow (with water up to about 4 feet deep) Wetland Attenuation Feature (WAF) with a storage volume of approximately 46,000 acre-feet; 80 aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells with a storage volume of approximately 448,000 acre-feet per year; and two wetland restoration sites along the Kissimmee River, Paradise Run and Kissimmee River Center.
A July 22 letter from SFWMD executive director Drew Bartlett to Col. Kelly states, “based on our initial analysis and review of the research, we will be pursuing the ASR features of LOWRP to quickly provide benefits to the northern estuaries by offering short- and long-term recoverable storage.”
The state will only receive credit for that $50 million under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) 50-50 cost share partnership with the Corps of Engineers if the LOWRP project has federal approval.
Col. Kelly said SFWMD can put in ASRs without corps approval, but if it is not part of a federal project, the state will not get credit for the expense on the 50-50 CERP cost share.
“We need a federal project approved in order to sign the agreement to start cost share,” explained Col. Kelly.
He said after the project has federal authorization, the corps can start the process of refining it to “deal with issues on the ground.”
He said LOWRP is “a solid plan we think will work.”
According to the SFWMD, ASR facilities have been used in Florida and throughout the United States for 40 years. The National Research Council (NRC) released a peer review of the draft study in April 2015, concluding that it “significantly advances understanding of large-scale implementation of ASR in South Florida.”