The Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida want the South Florida Water Management District to store water on land it owns in the southern Everglades, which is currently being used to grow sugarcane.
The groups proposed the storage plan in a letter they sent to Gov. Rick Scott as part of their efforts to encourage the district to move water from Lake Okeechobee south. Doing so would lessen or stop discharges from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary, plagued with blue-green algae this summer, they say.
Those discharges must be done to relieve pressure on the aging dike around the lake, which could breach if water levels get too high.
The district is currently leasing the 16,000-acre property, called the A-2 parcel, to Florida Crystals. The lease expires in 2019. After that, the land will be used in a water project that is part of the Central Everglades Planning Project. CEPP projects have already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and are awaiting Congressional approval.
For now, the groups say the land could be used short-term as part of the district’s passive water storage program, called dispersed water management. Passive storage leaves rainwater on land rather than moving it into district canals.
Dispersed water projects are inexpensive alternatives to large water storage projects but store much less water. Berms and structures that block water from moving off the land often must be constructed to make the efforts successful.
According to the groups’ calculations, the A-2 parcel could hold 13.4 billion gallons of water, which could provide 10 days of relief from peak flows into the St. Lucie estuary.
On Friday, the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced additional steps they will take to protect endangered species impacted by restoration projects. The actions outlined will allow more water to move south to the Florida Bayin ways that avoid prolonged flooding of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow.