The algal bloom that is causing so much disruption in St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties has not been seen on the west side of the lake at this time, however this side of Lake Okeechobee is no stranger to the problem. Much vitriol has been inspired on the West Coast over the past few years as similar algal blooms affect the Caloosahatchee Estuary. The blame for the bloom is most often assigned to agricultural runoff into Lake Okeechobee.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, is hoping to get legislators to approve a plan that would send more water from Lake Okeechobee southward. That plan would require additional land purchases by the government for water storage.
As a temporary measure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to lower water releases from Lake Okeechobee to the west and east coasts, from 4,000 cubic feet of water to t 3,000 cubic feet per second.
The area west of Lake Okeechobee is not affected by the current bloom on the East Coast, but Gov. Rick Scott included Lee County in his June 30 state of emergency.
According to a press release, South Florida Water Management District actions to mitigate the effects of the bloom include storing additional water in the Upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes north of Lake Okeechobee and Florida Power and Light Co. agreeing to the use of their cooling pond at the Martin Clean Energy Center for additional storage. The District is also timing releases based on tides into the West Palm Beach (C-51) Canal to give the Lake Worth Lagoon time to naturally dissipate any algae that may be contained in those releases.
The District is also implementing the Governor’s executive order by accelerating the use of private properties to store additional water. The Florida Legislature and Gov. Scott appropriated approximately $47.8 million for that purpose last session
Although the Caloosahatchee River and the Caloosahatchee Estuary have not been involved in this current crisis, the area is no stranger to this type of algal bloom. Several areas along the river from LaBelle to the Gulf suffered from the bloom during hot weather over the past few years.
Excess nutrient runoff is a common problem at the south end of the state. Even Lake Trafford in Immokalee suffered from oxygen-depriving algae resulting from excess nutrient runoff in the water during the 1990s. In 2000 the Lake Trafford Restoration Project began. The lake was ultimately dredged at a cost of over $21 million, provided by the Big Cypress Basin ad valorem taxes, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Collier County Tourism Development Council. Lake Trafford is the headwater for Corkscrew Swamp-Imperial River and Cocohatchee River and Camp Kaeis Strand-Panther Refuge.
In the long run, the C-43 Reservoir, west of LaBelle is to be part of the solution for the West Coast, but it will be years before that facility will come on line. It isn’t expected to be completed until 2020. The federal government and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) share the $584.6 million cost.
The 10,000 acre site will be able to hold some 170,000 acre-feet of excess stormwater in above ground cells. That water may be released as needed during the dry season. Berms for the 12-mile perimeter will be 25-35 feet high, encircling pump stations and the reservoir.
The project is a joint venture by SFWMD and the Corps of Engineers, part of Everglades Restoration.
Earlier this year, Phil Flood, SFWMD Intergovernmental & Outreach Representative, noted associated projects in Hendry County which include:
S-169 Structure Relocation
Replacement of a water control structure located at the Clewiston Boat Basin. Relocation approximately two miles west of current site could enable additional boat access to the lake.
- Remove structure following Corps of Engineer completion of C-2 structure replacement
- Complete construction fall 2017
- City of Clewiston to seek legislative funding for bridge replacement.
Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie Restoration:
Project converts 15,000 acres of citrus grove in south Hendry County (Southern Gardens) the historical Everglades wet prairie.
- Restore hydrology and ecology; construct flow equalization basin for STA 5/6
- Multi-year project to improve ground water and surface water hydrology, water supply and water quality
- $1,463,000 contracted awarded December 2015
- Construct January-December 2016
- 2,875-acre site leveling, culvert removal (246 8”, 247 8”) and abandon 15 irrigation wells.
Four Hendry County spoil sites north of the river have been approved as surplus, for a total of 169 acres.
The Boma Water Quality Treatment and Testing Facility on 1,770 acres on SR 80 at the Ortona Lock is being developed to remove nitrogen from the Caloosahatchee watershed. Construction of mesocosms (experiments that encapsulate a small part of a specific ecology under controlled conditions) is to begin this April. A 20-year lease for 260 acres to UF/IFAS for Best Management Practice and citrus research is contemplated. Citrus is anticipated to continue on the property till the facility is constructed.
In Glades County, water quality and environmental enhancement is the object of the Lake Hicpochee North Hydrologic Enhancement project. It involves acquisition of 638 acres for storage with an option for an additional 2,454 acres for $17.6 million. Construction is to begin this year.
Five dispersed water storage programs with private and public landowners:
Nicodemus Slough (Glades) 34,000 acre-feet, operational
Mudge Ranch (Glades), 396 acre-feet, operational
Alico Ranch (Hendry), 91,944 acre-feet, design and permitting underway
Babcock Ranch LLC (Charlotte), 1,214 ace-feet, design and permitting underway
Babcock Ranch State Preserve (Charlotte), 1,500 acre-feet, design and permitting underway.
SFWMD projects have the following legislative priorities: C-43 Reservoir construction; Completion of existing projects; Governor’s budget; and FDEP: Lake Hicpochee acquisition (2,454 acres).