Lake Okeechobee & Florida's Water Storage Debate
Lake Okeechobee is the crown jewel of the Glades and the agricultural communities that surround it depend on its heath for a vibrant economy.
Florida's Senate Bill 10 (SB10), the plan for an expedited reservoir south of Lake Okeeechobee, has provided tremendous amounts of attention, money and relief to coastal communities and estuaries.
Advocates of SB10 were loud, active and very vocal about costal waterways. Communities south of Lake Okeechobee got vocal in fear of our livelihoods when the bill called for taking 60,000 acres of farmland out of production to build the reservoir. Law makers heard our cries and amended the bill to instead use land already in public ownership for the project.
NOW it is time to solve Lake Okeechobee water problems, and focus on the health of the businesses around Lake Okeechobee who depend on agriculture and the lake.
Fix the dike
The 143-mile-long Herbert Hoover dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee is 70 years old and in desperate need of repairs. Engineers say that the dike's current condition poses a “grave and imminent danger to the people and the environment of South Florida” due the possibility it could breach if the lake level gets too high.
The Army Corps of Engineers keeps the lake level between 12.5 - 15.5 feet. When the lake level gets too high, water must be discharged through the Caloosahatchee River (C43) and St. Lucie Canal (C44) to keep the people living around the lake safe. Additionally, if the lake level is too low or high, plant and aquatic life in the lake suffer.
Over 564,000 acre feet of water storage was lost when the LORS schedule was updated due to the faulty Herbert Hoover dike. Some special interest groups and media have ignored this fact and the dike repairs but instead rally behind the EAA reservoir which will only hold 300,000 acre feet of water storage.
The Army Corps of Engineers expect to complete the dike rehabilitation sometime between 2020 and 2025. Until the repairs are complete, discharges to the estuaries will occur and the farms, businesses, and residents around the lake are in danger.
Northern Water storage projects are vital
Too much nutrient polluted water is flowing into Lake Okeechobee. SFWMD research shows that more than 95% of the water and the nutrients originate from areas to the north of the lake. In heavy rain events, water flows into Lake Okeechobee six times faster than it can be drained via canals!
This untreated lake water is then discharged to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries when Lake Okeechobee levels get too high. The costal estuaries require a unique balance of saltwater and fresh water. Too much or too little freshwater from the lake causes the estuary ecosystem to suffer.
Capturing water north, before it enters the lake, is paramount. If water is collected, cleaned and stored north of the lake, it can then be released into the system during dry times. Northern storage will benefit Lake Okeechobee, the costal estuaries, the Everglades, and water supply users. Water managers and scientists put together this fact sheet to stress the importance of water storage projects north of Lake Okeechobee.
Lets take a look at water storage types and how they may work in tandem to help reduce harmful discharges to the costal estuaries, keep Lake Okeechobee at a safe level, provide fresh water to water supply to users and the Everglades. (See: 2015 University of Florida Water Institute Study)
Storage Options identified in the LOWP* :
1. ASR Wells (Aquifer Storage and Recovery)
2. DWI Wells (Deep Well Injection)
(*LOWP- Lake Okeechobee watershed Project, a joint effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and SFWMD)
Deep Well Injection (DWI) Wells
The technology: water is pumped 3,000 feet underground into a transmissive rock layer that easily accepts water called the "Boulder Zone"
$ Cost: $500 thousand - $5 million
Capacity: can inject 30 cubic feet of water per second (cfs), 2-5 million gallons a day. In total, roughly a billion gallons of water a day could be injected into the boulder zone without affecting the ASR wells
Timeline: can be planned, permitted, and constructed to be operational in 2-3 years
Downfall: water injected cannot be recovered in dry times
Upside: Relief for the costal estuaries and Lake O during heavy rain events; water can be injected at a much faster rate than water can be injected into ASR wells
Usage: protect estuaries, prevent flooding, reduce/eliminate discharges damaging the estuaries
Land footprint: less than an acre
- 20 deep injection wells would reduce the volume of excess water in typical discharge events by 27%
- 60 deep injection wells constructed would reduce the volume of excess water in typical discharge events by 80%
- Quickest, easiest, deepest option
- DWI are used all over the world and are commonly used for municipal wastewater disposal
- There are 240 deep wells throughout Florida that have successfully operated for 15 yrs
- Lee county sewage uses deep wells
- Miami-Dade has 21 deep injection wells (some of which are used for treated sewage) and they expect to double this number by 2025
- Largest number of permitted deep wells is in Martin County (30+ deep wells)
- Rainfall, a natural resource, would be injected to help manage excess rainwater - not sewage
- NEVER has there been a recorded incidence in Florida of DWI leaking into the aquifer
How do DWI compare to fracking?
- DWI are operated at low pressures (1.5 – 20 per square inch PSI) that do not cause fracturing of rock layers
- A bike tire is pumped up at a similar PSI as a DWI well
- Fracking can be up to 9,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) and can fracture rock layers
Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) Wells
The Technology: excess surface water is pumped 900 feet underground into the Upper Floridan Aquifer (see graphic below)
Cost: $1 - $6 million
Capacity: can inject 8 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) / 5 million gallons per day
Timeline: Plan, Permit, Construct to be operational in 3-4 years
Downfall: water must be treated when implanted and upon recovery which can become pricey. There is a limit on how much water can be injected into the Florida Aquifer, high likelihood of of that limit being reached in heavy rain events **ideal if used in tandem with DWI wells
Upside: 70% -90% of water stored can be recovered during dry periods to supplement water supply for all users & the environment. Also will provide relief for the costal estuaries and Lake O during heavy rain events
Usage: water supply storage, protect estuaries & prevent flooding, reduce/eliminate discharges damaging the estuaries
Land footprint: less than an acre
- ASR wells are very ‘site-specific’ and fortunately, scientists say the land north of lake Okeechobee is ideal for ASR well technology allowing for a 90% water recovery rate
- ASR wells have proven provide a reduction in phosphorus concentrations in recovered water (source: 2015 University of Florida Water Institute Study)
Cost: Billions (the current EAA reservoir is estimated to cost a staggering $4.3 Billion)
Capacity: 240,00 - 360,000 acre-feet
Timeline: 5 - 10 years - locate/purchase land, construct berm,
Downfall: Biggest negative economic impact, high cost to operate once constructed, are often not usable because the same rain event that flooded nearby lands has filled the reservoir i.e. Everglades will be flooded and unable to accept water
Upside: 100 % of water stored can be used during dry periods to supplement water supply for all users & the environment. Also provide relief for the costal estuaries and Lake O during heavy rain events
Usage: water supply storage & protect / discharges damaging the estuaries
- Reservoirs have been used in Florida and the USA for 40 years
The James Madison Institute did an in-dpeth study on the negative economic impact taking 60,000 acres of EAA farmland out of production to build a reservior would have - click here to read the full report.
If you support cleaning water up at the source(s), before it enters Lake Okeechobee so that not only will the coastal communities have clean water for drinking, fishing, and tourism, but communities and residents of the Lake Okeechobee Region may also benefit from the tax dollars being spent on water treatment projects that benefit all our water bodies, and believe Florida should leave EAA farmland in production, click below to sign the "stop buy the land" petition.