WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is moving forward with investigations of the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells to store water north of Lake Okeechobee, according to a presentation by SFWMD Director of Ecosystem Restoration and Capital Projects Jennifer Reynolds at the Aug. 13 governing board meeting.
“The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) originally contemplated about 330 ASR wells to achieve the storage in the system,” explained Reynolds. The ASR regional study found ASR on that scale is not feasible, but ASR could be part of the solution in water storage needs, she continued.
“We have a deliberate path forward to use science to inform our ASR plan,” she said. Part of that plan involves exploratory coring and monitoring wells.
Core borings will provide site-specific geologic and hydrogeologic data to evaluate properties of the Floridan Aquifer system at locations under consideration for ASR wells, she said.
“Coring and monitoring wells are not ASR wells,” Reynolds said. The core borings will help scientists determine if an area is suitable for ASR.
“We know from our pilot projects and our studies that location is very important,” she explained. The cores will allow for detailed scientific assessment, she continued.
She said ASR wells are considered for use in the Upper Floridan Aquifer or the Middle Floridian Aquifer. To reach those aquifers, the cores will drill down to 1,000 to 2,000 feet deep. She added these are not deep injection wells (DIW). DIWs go into the Boulder Zone which is about 3,000 feet deep.
All of the sites under consideration are already owned by the state.
She said they are also investigating the potential to use ASRs to improve the performance of stormwater treatment areas (STAs).
Reynolds asked the governing board to approve a contract for core borings not to exceed $14 million.
Thomas Van Lent of the Everglades Foundation argued against approving the contract. He said they should have a more comprehensive science plan, schedule and budget before even starting the investigation of the possible use of ASRs to provide water storage north of the lake.
“If we don’t go through an exploratory process, how do we answer the questions that everyone seems to be concerned about?” asked Nyla Pipes of One Florida Foundation. “There is enough science that show that these work.
“We are very supportive of ASR wells because we simply do not have the solution in large reservoirs and STAs,” she said.
“You’re not going to get much with 10 ASR wells in terms of reducing discharges to the estuaries, but I would be interested in exploring more of the science,” said Gary Ritter of Florida Farm Bureau. He said he also likes the fact they are looking at ASR use all the way up to the headwaters of the watershed. ASR is another tool in the toolbox, “and we need as many tools as we can get,” he said.
Governing Board member Ben Butler said there are unknowns about ASRs and the core borings would be the first step in finding those answers. “It is amazing about what we don’t know about the land that is an eighth or quarter-mile beneath our feat. As a science person, I look forward to seeing what the science shows,” he said.
He noted the core borings are about 6 inches in diameter and ASRs are 18 to 24 inches. “These are just exploratory wells,” he said.
The borings will provide important information about the Upper Floridan Aquifer, he added. “When we talk ASRs, we have a lot of unknowns, but these borings are how we are going to get the science.”
Cheryl Meads said she agrees with Dr. Van Lendt. “He’s just asking for a plan to address the uncertainties before we spend $14 million,” she said.
“Storage has been a massive component that has been missing for us,” said Governing Board member Scott Wagner. He said storage is under construction east, west and south of the lake. “Right now we don’t have a piece for storage north,” he said. The ASR wells are a tool to enhance the storage north of the lake. Moving forward with core samples seems to be a very methodical process of “doing it the right way,” he said.
Reynolds said in order to answer the scientific questions they also need to put in a cluster of wells in order to gather the data needed.
The state has already allocated $100 million for the ASR wells included in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project, to fast-track storage north of the lake. She said this funding will allow them to remediate two existing ASR wells and implement 10 new ASRs.
Governing Board member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch said she was struggling with whether she could support the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan, which includes 80 ASRs. She said the legislature made it clear how the $100 million allocated by the state will be spent.
Reynolds said the corings will help evaluate both the Upper Floridian Aquifer and the Middle Floridian Aquifer and how projects in the upper watershed might affect water in the SFWMD district area.
“There has been so much discussion on ASR wells,” said Bergeron. “There’s a lot we’ve got to learn before we ever make a decision.
“There’s all kinds of unknowns here. In order for us to move into the future as far as whether ASR wells are worth the bang for the buck, I don’t think we have much choice in doing the exploratory wells.
“I think it is important that we go forward with this,” he said.
Governing Board member Charlette Roman said she understands why core borings are needed. She asked if a science plan has been documented as a road map for the study. SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett said staff will put that together.
SFWMD Principal Hydrologist Bob Verrastro said the science plan was always the intent of the peer review panel who reviewed work previously done on ASR projects and the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences. He said the contract would allow them to collect the first two core borings before the science plan is complete.
“ASR has been a subject for more than a decade,” said Bartlett. “It has been peer reviewed already through the National Academy of Sciences.” He said the core borings are needed to answer questions raised by the academy. He added when the state allocates money, they expect action. Moving forward with the core borings will show the legislature they are moving forward as directed.
“Just based on experience, we know this data needs to be collected,” he said. “It’s stuff we need to do under any science plan.”
“This is going to educate us with the positives and the negatives, or maybe it’s all positives,” said Bergeron. “This will help us make the right decision. Without that, I don’t know how we could ever make a decision.”
The governing board voted 7-2 to approve the three-year contract with Huss Drilling Inc. for core borings, not to exceed $14 million.
Thurlow-Lippisch and Meads voted against the motion.