To the editor:
Thank you for contacting Governor Rick Scott with your concerns about the recent water releases from Lake Okeechobee and the State's response to its impacts on the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary. The Department of Environmental Protection is the lead Agency in many of these issues so the Governor asked that we respond on his behalf. We share your concerns about the recent impairments to water quality caused by heavy rainfall and high volume releases from the lake.
As you may be aware, water releases from the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee are administered by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The dike is managed to contain lake levels up to 15.5 feet. Above this height, the Corps has determined that the weight of the water begins to pose a significant risk to the dike's structural integrity. When heavy rains and runoff cause the lake to rise beyond this capacity the Corps conducts a managed release of water to return it to a safe level. These were the conditions this summer which required the release of water from the lake.
Governor Scott and DEP Secretary Vinyard are keenly aware of the complex issues related to quality and quantity of water flows in Florida. They remain engaged with our federal, state and local partners to implement real solutions to Florida's water challenges. Both recognize the importance of "getting the water right" in south Florida, which includes supporting the implementation of the congressionally-authorized Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and Governor Scott's landmark Everglades Water Quality Plan.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Health, South Florida Water Management District along with other federal, state and local partners are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to balance flood control, navigation, water supply, water quality and the overall ecological health of our water bodies. Key projects aimed at improving water flow and conditions in the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary include:
n The C-43 Reservoir, part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, is designed to reduce seasonal flows and improve salinity balance in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. Nearly $85 million dollars has already been invested by state and federal government for project design and land acquisition.
n The Florida Department of Environmental Protection adopted a Basin Management Action Plan for the Caloosahatchee Estuary this year. The first phase includes approximately 60 water quality improvement projects over the next five years.
n The District continues to move forward with the restoration of Lake Hicpochee, a 7,000-acre historic lake along the Caloosahatchee River. Construction is projected to begin in 2015.
n The state's Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program is moving forward with a combination of source controls, construction projects and dispersed water management projects.
n The Corps and the District are working expeditiously on the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), part of a long-term solution for moving water south of Lake Okeechobee into the heart of the Everglades and away from the coastal estuaries. When this project is completed, approximately 210,000 acre-feet of water on an average annual basis will be captured and directed south.
n Other projects underway to send more water south and increase discharges and improve sheetflow into Everglades National Park include the C-111 South Dade Project and Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park.
Governor Scott recently announced a $90 million state commitment for the bridging of a 2.6-mile segment of Tamiami Trail in South Florida. The project would deconstruct a section of the berm where the road is currently built and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road can flow into the Everglades. Much needed water will then be diverted to Everglades National Park. In addition, high-nutrient water will be rerouted from Lake Okeechobee and kept from entering the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
These are complex problems that require serious solutions. We will continue to identify and implement sound, well-planned, science-based programs that offer short and long term solutions to improve the quality and quantity of our state's water resources.
Thank you for expressing your interest in, and concerns about, this important issue.
John Calhoun, Director
Office of Public Services
Florida Department of Environmental Protection