June 13, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Swamp daisies grow in water flowing through a cypress dome in Everglades National Park. A planned reservoir to hold fresh water that can restore flow toward the Everglades and Florida Bay is critical, advocates say.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Swamp daisies grow in water flowing through a cypress dome in Everglades National Park. A planned reservoir to hold fresh water that can restore flow toward the Everglades and Florida Bay is critical, advocates say.

SOUTH FLORIDA — Differences on plans for a deep reservoir to hold and treat fresh water needed by Florida Bay and the Everglades were laid out in a recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report, but those issues should not delay the massive project, environmental advocates say.

The $1.6 billion reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee now is designed to take in more than 10,000 acres and hold nearly 80 billion gallons of fresh water in its 23-foot depths.

The Corps, in a report updated in late May, questioned some of the South Florida Water Management District’s detailed plans for the reservoir and a 5,500-acre marsh to lower the level of nutrients in the captured water.

The [water management district’s] tentatively recommended plan is feasible from an engineering and construction viewpoint,” the Corps staff said in the opening of its 86-page report. “However, the policy compliance review has identified several technical, policy, and legal concerns.”

In comments to the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, SFWMD staff bristled at some of the Corps’ critiques.

Those issues can be worked out during the years-long construction, Everglades Trust executive director Kimberly Mitchell said Monday.

“This is the closest we have come to getting what we need, which is connecting Lake Okeechobee to a system that sends the water down to the Everglades and Florida Bay,” Mitchell said. “We need to get started now and go faster and harder.”

The Corps’ May report is an example of “the technical conversations that always go on in this type of project,” she said. “There are some differences of opinion that can be worked out.”

Shannon Estenoz, a Florida Keys native, worked on Everglades restoration with the U.S. Department of the Interior before recently joining the Everglades Foundation as chief operating officer.

“The Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District are to be applauded, as both agencies acted with diligence and speed, reflecting the importance of the Everglades Reservoir to Florida and to America’s Everglades,” she wrote June 4. “Time is of the essence in completing this vital project.”

The Corps must submit an approved plan to Congress by Oct. 1 for the reservoir to receive Water Resources Development Act funding. The state and feds are to share project costs. 

If funding is approved, the projected timeline for completing the reservoir is eight to 10 years, with construction not expected to begin before 2020. 

kwadlow@keysnews.com