SFWMD seeks $64 million to finish EAA reservoir’s STA to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges

Tyler Treadway
 
| Treasure Coast Newspapers

The reservoir project to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers got $64 million closer to completion Thursday.

The South Florida Water Management District board agreed to officially ask for a transfer of the $64 million the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis set aside earlier this year for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project.

That money gives the district the $174 million needed to complete the 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area, or STA, on schedule in 2023.

“This project is a priority of Governor DeSantis,” said board Chair Chauncey Goss, “and I’ll be happy to report that we’re proceeding full speed ahead.”

More: SFWMD begins construction at EAA Reservoir Project site

It’s the only project among the 68 in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that both helps preserve the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and sends needed water to the Everglades and Florida Bay, said Anna Upton, general counsel for the Everglades Foundation.

Work underway

The district expects to send out requests for bids to build the rest of the STA this month and bring the results to the district board for approval in February.

Work on the STA, a manufactured marsh designed to clean water as it slowly flows through, began in April and has already spent about $15 million on its share of the project.

The estimated cost is $170 million.

The project also includes a 10,100-acre, 78.2-billion gallon reservoir with 37-foot walls to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers. The reservoir is expected to be completed sometime in 2027, said Corps spokesperson James Yocum, if needed funds are provided over the years by the federal government.

The STA can be used to store and clean water before the reservoir is completed. But its capacity for excess Lake O water — from 3.2 billion to 4.2 billion gallons — is a lot less than the reservoir’s. 

More: Environmentalists encourage Corps to redesign reservoir project

Lake O discharges that began Oct. 14 have sent about 15 billion gallons of lake water to the St. Lucie River and about 60 billion gallons to the Caloosahatchee River to date.

More: Eta’s rains will raise Lake O, cause continued discharges

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Video: How a drop of water at Disney can pollute the St. Lucie River

Here’s why that Lake O reservoir is necessary. DACIA JOHNSON/TCPALM

The completed project is expected, when used in conjunction with other existing and planned projects, to reduce the number of damaging Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers by 63%.

It also will send an average of about 120.6 billion gallons of clean water south to the thirsty Everglades and Florida Bay every year.

The entire project will cost about $1.6 billion, with the state and federal governments splitting the cost.

More: See the SFWMD board presentation on the EAA Reservoir Project

Tyler Treadway is an environment reporter who specializes in issues facing the Indian River Lagoon. Support his work on TCPalm.com.  Contact him at 772-221-4219 and tyler.treadway@tcpalm.com.

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