South Florida Water Management District debates ASR wells for Lake Okeechobee project
The following is an article from TCPalm covering how the South Florida Water Management District plans to spend $50 million from the state Legislature on a project to store and clean water heading into Lake Okeechobee and interviews Mark Perry.
See the article on TCPalm here
WEST PALM BEACH — The South Florida Water Management District board has a champagne problem. It must decide how to spend a $50 million gift from the state Legislature on a project to store and clean water heading into Lake Okeechobee.
The SFWMD board Thursday was on the brink of kickstarting the nearly $2 billion Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project by agreeing to dig 10 wells designed to capture water before it reaches the lake and hold it until it's needed.
But then it heard the pros and cons of the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells and worried about the possible detrimental effects of pumping water 1,000 into the ground.
"The wells aren't a natural thing," said Ronald "Alligator Ron" Bergeron, a board member representing Broward County. "We need some solid science to make sure we're not shifting a problem from one place to another just to get something done."
Given the whole project would take more than 20 years, board members said they want to move forward on aspects that can be done relatively quickly, such as ASR wells. But ultimately decided more study was needed.
The project is designed to hold and clean water coming into Lake Okeechobee from the north, which will:
- Help improve the lake ecology by reducing inflows of fertilizer runoff that cause algae blooms
- Reduce the need for discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by increasing the storage space in the lake
The project is expected to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie by 16 percent and to the Caloosahatchee by 14 percent.
It also will increase the quantity and improve the quality of habitat for native wildlife and vegetation and increase water supply for farms and communities that use water from the lake.
Under the currently proposed design, the nearly $2 billion project includes:
- a shallow 13,600-acre reservoir to hold up to 15 billion gallons of water
- a 2,500-acre stormwater treatment area
- 80 wells to store water up to 146 billion gallons of water a year and allow it to be recovered
- 3,500 acres of wetland restoration
The money from the Legislature would be enough to dig 10 wells and build and operate a treatment facility to clean water before it's sent into the ground.
Each well can handle up to 5 million gallons of water a day, so the proposed 10 could keep up to 1.8 billion gallons of water out of the lake if operated 365 days a year. By comparison, about 80 billion gallons of excess Lake O water was discharged to the St. Lucie River between June and October 2018.
The wells "won't solve the problem when there's a problem," said Drew Martin of the Loxahatchee Audubon Society. "You're putting a little straw in the ground."
Despite district staff's assertion the water pumped into the wells would be cleaned first, Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart, said the benefit might not offset the potential for pollution to aquifers needed for water supply.
The entire project is needed, but installing the wells "is a great start," Mike Collins, a former board member from the Florida Keys, told the board. "It will provide an incremental benefit to the lake and to the estuaries."
SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett said he'll ask staff to "dust off" the research into wells and "do our own scientific review to make sure we don't create any problems."