GLADES COUNTY -- State officials were in Glades County Monday morning to learn more about the water storage project north of Lake Okeechobee. On August 23, Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, Senator Ben Albritton and Representative Kaylee Tuck visited the C-38S Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) drilling site off State Road 78 near the Kissimmee River.
The elected officials met with South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) staff to learn more about progress of the ASR component of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan.
“We learned a lot today,” said Tuck, who represents Florida House District 55. She said the big takeway from the meeting, “is how well the money is being spent.” She said SFWMD is working hard to be very efficient, providing the best water storage solution at the best price.
Over the past three years, the Florida Legislature has designated $50 million per year to “jump start” water storage north of Lake Okeechobee. The ASRs are included in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan (LOWRP), a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
The Florida Legislature allocated $50 million in 2019 and again in 2020 to accelerate LOWRP. In 2021, state legislation was passed to continue annual funding for LOWRP. Senate Bill 2516, linked to Senate Bill 2500, the General Appropriations Act, the legislation provides the policy framework and funding for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), to expedite implementation of the LOWRP.
“We’re doing it the right way,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Ben Butler. The first step in the process is to drill continuous cores in the earth at sites planned for ASRs so they could study the geology.
The cores start about 500 feet under the surface and end about 2,000 feet below surface, explained SFWMD Principal Hydrogeologist Robert Verrastro. A single core includes 1,500 feet of material, preserved just as it came from the earth. “The core will give us incredibly detailed information about the rock,” he explained. He said SFWMD is in discussions with Florida Gulf Coast University so FGCU students can do analysis on the cores. United Stated Geological Survey will do an even greater analysis. Then the cores will go to the state’s repository so in the future anyone who is studying the geography of Florida can have access to study them.
SFWMD plans to drill cores at 10 other locations in addition to the Kissimmee River site. Test wells are the next step, which will help the scientists understand how much water can be pumped into the aquifer in a particular site, and how much can be successfully recovered.
According to the information about LOWRP provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 80 ASR wells included in the project could store the equivalent of one foot of water on Lake Okeechobee each year. Most of the water storage in LOWRP comes from the ASR wells. Along with other projects also in the works, this water storage could help ensure a safe water supply for South Florida.
When it comes to having water in reserve, “it’s not if we’ll need it, it’s when we’ll need it,” said SFWMD Director of Ecosystem Restoration Jennifer Reynolds. Periodic droughts are part of life in Florida. “We need storage all around the lake.”
Before flood control, water sheetflowed very slowly from the headwaters at Shingle Creek (near Kissimmee) south to Lake Okeechobee, spread out over a vast floodplain.
“We can’t recreate the storage the way Mother Nature did it,” she continued. “But we can mimic what Mother Nature had and engineer a way to create that storage.”