State releases draft plan to restore northern Everglades

State scientists and engineers released a draft technical plan to protect and restore the Lake Okeechobee watershed and improve the Caloosahatchee & St. Lucie watersheds, together known as the Northern Everglades. The " Draft Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan" is a critical step in the Northern Everglades initiative to protect and improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water delivered to Lake Okeechobee and downstream receiving waters...

Nov 26th, 2007

• South Florida water managers, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture seek input on technical plan to improve Lake Okeechobee

WEST PALM BEACH, FL, Nov. 16, 2007 -- State scientists and engineers today released a draft technical plan to protect and restore the Lake Okeechobee watershed and improve the Caloosahatchee & St. Lucie watersheds, together known as the Northern Everglades. The " Draft Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan" is a critical step in the Northern Everglades initiative to protect and improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water delivered to Lake Okeechobee and downstream receiving waters. The multi-phased plan, developed by the South Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services outlines the steps needed to reduce pollution, improve the health of the natural system north of the lake and clean water flowing into South Florida's "liquid heart."

"This is a positive step forward in a long-term undertaking to restore Lake Okeechobee," said District Governing Board Chair Eric Buermann. "The State has collaborated with the constituents of South Florida to develop a cost-effective plan that will build upon the work already under way and make a measurable difference to the health of Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and their estuaries."

To improve the health of the Northern Everglades, the technical plan identifies projects along with agricultural and urban best management practices needed to achieve water quality targets for the lake. In addition, it outlines other projects for increasing water storage north of Lake Okeechobee that will help achieve healthier lake levels and reduce harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie estuaries. The plan includes short-term measures for implementation during the first three years of the plan and longer-term measures that will be put into operation post-2010.

Components of the multi-phase plan include:
• Building treatment wetlands to clean water flowing into the lake;
• Using other innovative "green" nutrient control technologies to reduce phosphorus loads in the watershed;
• Creating between 900,000 and 1.3 million acre-feet of water storage north of the lake through a combination of above-ground reservoirs, underground storage and alternative water storage projects on public and private lands.
• Implementing improved agricultural management practices on more than 1.3 million acres of farmland; and
• Finalizing regulations that will reduce the impacts of development on water quality and flow.

Due to the Florida Legislature in February 2008, the technical plan is required by the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist this year. In addition to augmenting and enhancing restoration under way in the remnant Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, it also builds upon the environmental improvements being implemented north of the lake as a part of the state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), and Florida's Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan and Lake Okeechobee and Estuary Recovery Plan.

Since 2000, the State has invested more than $3.8 billion to improve the quality and the natural flow of water in America's Everglades. Initial measures outlined by the technical plan call for an additional investment of up to $450 million beyond the State's 50 percent cost-share for land acquisition and construction projects as part of CERP.

Water managers and the State agencies have worked closely with stakeholders to develop the second phase of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project and are seeking public input on restoration measures outlined in the plan through December 13, 2007.

Two public meetings are scheduled this month in Okeechobee and Clewiston where a summary of the draft technical plan will be presented followed by an opportunity for public comment:

Tuesday, Nov. 27
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Okeechobee Civic Center
1750 Highway 98 North
Okeechobee, FL 34972

Wednesday, Nov. 28
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Clewiston Recreation Department
110 West Osceola Ave.
Clewiston, FL 33440

To review the technical plan or for more information on Everglades restoration, visit http://my.sfwmd.gov/northerneverglades

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. The agency mission is to manage and protect water resources of the region by balancing and improving water quality, flood control, natural systems and water supply. A key initiative is cleanup and restoration of the Everglades.

###

More in Environmental