Restoring Florida’s Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and Florida’s delicate coastal estuary systems is a much-needed environmental stewardship effort that will help secure Florida’s water future.
Thankfully, Florida has an opportunity right now to champion long-term, sustainable water and environmental policies by expanding on existing Everglades restoration efforts taking place south of Lake Okeechobee, to also include water flows north of Lake Okeechobee.
For more than 29 years, I’ve dedicated my career as a civil engineer to understanding Florida’s environmental needs, and participating in the technical solutions that will address these concerns. As a former Lead Civil Engineer at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), and now working with my peers on the Water Resources Committee of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida (ACEC-FL) and across Florida through the Florida Engineering Society, I’ve always supported science-based efforts to protect and restore our natural resources.
One of the best ways to continue strengthening Everglades restoration efforts is through Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) technology – a process that captures, treats, and stores excess water during the rainy season for later use during periods of drought. ASR technology has been used in Florida for over 40 years, and is used by states across our country and in numerous countries globally.
Florida has among the most stringent ASR regulations in place, anywhere. These regulations help ensure excess water is treated to Florida’s rigorous drinking water standards prior to being stored in an ASR system, and further, require comprehensive and continuous groundwater monitoring of the ASR system.
Currently, the SFWMD and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a system of 80 ASR wells to be implemented as part of the Lake Okeechobee Water Restoration Plan (LOWRP). The ASR systems can provide approximately 448,000 acre-feet of storage and can reduce harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries by approximately 80 percent when fully implemented with the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Water recovered from ASR systems will be depleted of phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations by as much as 90 percent, which will positively impact the quality of the water moving back into the environment.
To expedite continued restoration efforts under the LOWRP, the Florida Senate, with the support of Senate President Wilton Simpson, is advancing legislation to implement ASR water storage technology north of Lake Okeechobee. Senate Bill 94, sponsored by Senator Jason Brodeur, is exactly what is needed to continue safely and effectively restoring Florida’s beautiful Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and our delicate coastal estuary systems.
ASR technology works, it has for at least two decades, and it has been an integral part of our plan to restore the Everglades ecosystem. It must remain available for use in restoring the timing of the flow of water through the various water systems leading into the Everglades, or the plan won’t work. There’s simply no time to waste on this much-needed environmental stewardship effort.
Denise Palmatier was a former Lead Civil Engineer at the SFWMD, now working with her peers on the Water Resources Committee of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida.