A fix to save Everglades, Lake Okeechobee — Florida’s plumbing problem
Updated: Jan 4, 2019
With summer ending and algal blooms still occurring, it’s past time to consider all solutions to our state’s complex water-quality issues. This includes storing water on land north, east, west and south of Lake Okeechobee along with using available technology. Emergency estuary-protection wells are one of the most efficient ways to provide relief to Lake Okeechobee and to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries while additional water-storage projects come online.
Many people don’t realize the Everglades begin near Orlando, and often when it’s raining in South Florida, it’s raining in Orlando, too. When we receive too much rain, we run out of places to store the water. Heavy rainfall inundates the watershed north of Lake O. with nutrient-laden urban, industrial, sewage and agricultural runoff. The heavy rains and nonstop flow of runoff raise the level in Lake Okeechobee, putting the Herbert Hoover Dike at risk of failing. The Army Corps of Engineers is then forced to release freshwater from Lake O. into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries because there are currently no other options.
Instead of being treated like the heart of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee is used a catchment pond for water from a 3.5 million-acre watershed. South Florida Water Management District’s numbers show that over the past five years an average of 95 percent of the water flowing into Lake Okeechobee was from northern basins, contributing 92 percent of the phosphorus and 89 percent of the nitrogen to the lake.
We must support Northern Everglades restoration projects just like we supported the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. Completing these projects will help store and treat water before it enters Lake Okeechobee and curb discharges by preventing the lake’s levels from rising too quickly.
Lake O. discharges are harmful to the estuaries, but when lives are put at risk, the Army Corps’ hands are tied. We have the tools and knowledge to protect lives and our estuaries by putting excess water into deep injection wells 3,000 feet below into the “boulder zone.” This doesn’t jeopardize our water supply because a confining layer separates the boulder zone from the aquifer.
This technology has been used since the 1930s. Nearly every county in South Florida uses deep injection wells – roughly 200 have been operating for more than three decades.
The SFWMD has proposed building additional wells that could take in 15 million gallons of water a day while other more expensive long-term Everglades restoration and water-storage projects are being completed.
We need immediate relief and long-term storage projects. The district will work with us to provide both.
Anyone who has witnessed the environmental destruction that has occurred in our estuaries would be foolish not to support this proven technology to reduce the Lake Okeechobee discharges.
A multifaceted approach must be taken to fix Florida’s plumbing problems. Refusal to look at Northern Everglades restoration projects or estuary-protection wells only sets us back further.
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