The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) has been revised and will be ready for funding in the 2022 federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), according to Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District.
Kelly said the revised LOWRP will keep all of the wetland feature and the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells. He said the large and costly wetlands attenuation feature (WAF) is “no longer part of the plan.”
LOWRP wetland restoration projects will be two areas on the Kissimmee River: Paradise Run and Kissimmee River Center. Approximately 1,200 acres of wetlands will be restored at Kissimmee River Center and about 3,500 acres of wetlands at Paradise Run. Both wetland areas were drained by the channelization of the Kissimmee River. Project features in wetlands restoration are fairly simple structures, explained to project manager Tim Gysan, in an August 2020 interview with the Lake Okeechobee News. The most difficult part of the wetlands project will be real estate acquisition, he said. For the Kissimmee River Center wetland, approximately 1,048 acres are private lands (89%) and 133 acres (11%) are public lands. For the Paradise Run wetland, approximately 1,485 acres are private lands (41%) and 2,106 acres are public lands (59%).
The ASR wells provide most of the water storage capacity in LOWRP. The 80 ASRs in the project could provide annual storage volume of 448,000 acre-feet, which equals 145.9 billion gallons of water — about 1 foot of water on Lake Okeechobee. Estimated cost of the 80 ASR wells is $400 million. In 2019, the Florida Legislature decided to jump start northern storage by putting $50 million into the project. In 2020 the state kicked in another $50 million. In 2021, the Legislature passed legislation that pledges $50 million a year in state funds until the project is completed. The South Florida Water Management District has already started the project with test wells. In the Legislative hearings, David Pyne, president of ASR Systems in Gainesville and a member of the Florida Engineering Society, said ASR is “storing water at times when water is available and recovering the water when it is needed.” He said the wells need a relatively small footprint and most can be built on land the state already owns.
Comparing the cost to other water storage projects:
• The C-43 reservoir will cost about $19,250 per acre foot of water storage;
• The EAA reservoir will cost about $14,000 per acre foot of water storage;
• ASRs north of the lake will cost about $2,680 per acre foot of water storage.
The WAF, originally envisioned as part of the project, would have covered 13,000 acres. This shallow impoundment would have held water up to about 4 feet deep during the wet season. Because the water would have permeated into the earth as the lake level fell, this would not have been water storage that would be available for use in the dry season. The WAF would have cost nearly $1 billion, and due to the complexities involved in buying the private property from less than willing sellers, just acquring the land could have taken 20 years, according to corps officials. In addition to the price tag and the time it would have required to buy the land, the WAF faced public opposition from the Seminole Tribe and from homesteaded property owners whose families had lived for generations within the project footprint. Glades County officials also voiced concerns for the safety of Buckhead Ridge residents should the impoundment fail, and about loss of tax revenue from the 13,000 acres.