SFWMD to provide funding, assistance to complete water treatment plant

The Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District approved an emergency assistance plan to accelerate the start-up of the Lake Region Water Treatment Plant in western Palm Beach County. The facility is a multi-agency effort that will reduce public water supply withdrawals from Lake Okeechobee and provide an alternative water supply solution for the lakeside communities of Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay. Construction of the plant is presently 75% complete...

• Emergency response aims to bring online new water source for lake communities before end of dry season and severest water shortage conditions

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Jan. 8, 2008 -- The Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today approved an emergency assistance plan to accelerate the start-up of the Lake Region Water Treatment Plant in western Palm Beach County. The facility is a multi-agency effort that will reduce public water supply withdrawals from Lake Okeechobee and provide an alternative water supply solution for the lakeside communities of Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay.

At a total cost of more than $58 million, construction of the plant is presently 75-percent complete and on schedule for completion by August 1, 2008. Under an accelerated schedule, the SFWMD and Palm Beach County will work together to provide the new water supply to the lake communities earlier, in anticipation of a potentially more serious water crisis in the Lake Okeechobee area this year than in 2007.

"When complete, the Lake Region Water Treatment Plant will bring significant environmental and public health benefits to the region," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann. "With a worsening water shortage hitting these communities particularly hard, it is imperative that the plant come online as quickly as possible to reduce their dependence on the lake. This agency is committed to accelerating this project to enhance quality of life in the lake communities."

As part of the emergency plan, the SFWMD will provide $500,000 to Palm Beach County to assist in fast-tracking completion of the treatment plant by March 31, 2008. In addition, the District will assist Palm Beach County in obtaining operational certifications from various regulatory agencies, including the Department of Health, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the State Fire Marshal.

With today's emergency funds, the District is contributing a total of $11.7 million toward the plant's design and construction, with Palm Beach County and the three lakeside communities collaborating for the remaining costs. The accelerated schedule will help provide water to the three communities during the anticipated height of the 2008 dry season and water shortage in April, May and June.

"This is great news for our community," added city of South Bay Mayor Clarence Anthony. "I commend the District's proactive stance in assuring this region will have more water available for the dry season. Today's action also reaffirms the District's commitment to improving the area's long-term water quality."

The Lake Region Water Treatment Plant will replace the aging treatment plants that currently serve the tri-city area and shift the area's water supply source from Lake Okeechobee to the Upper Floridan Aquifer, a reliable and virtually drought-proof groundwater source. In the plant, the brackish Floridan water will be treated using reverse osmosisto provide high-quality potable water for each of the three cities. The plant will be capable of producing 10 million gallons of potable water per day, enough to meet the cities' current water demands with adequate capacity for future growth.

At 10.13 feet above sea level this morning, Lake Okeechobee remains more than four feet below its historical average -- and nearly a foot below previous historic lows -- for this time of year. In fact, water levels in the lake have been setting new record daily lows for more than seven months. In addition to its role as a primary water resource for lakeside communities, Lake Okeechobee is the source of water for 500,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area and serves as a primary back-up supply to more than five million South Floridians.

New Water Restrictions Take Effect Jan. 15
For additional information on the water shortage, irrigation restrictions or water conservation, call the SFWMD's toll-free Water Conservation Hotline at 1-800-662-8876 or contact a regional SFWMD service center. Helpful water conservation tips also are available at www.savewaterfl.com.

The South Florida Water Management District is a regional, governmental agency that oversees the water resources in the southern half of the state -- 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys. It is the oldest and largest of the state's five water management districts.

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