Underscoring the state's commitment to Greater Everglades ecosystem restoration, the Florida Legislature in 2007 expanded the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act to strengthen protection for the Northern Everglades. This is being achieved by restoring and preserving the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. The legislation required watershed plans for Lake Okeechobee (including Fisheating Creek), the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and their estuaries. Features of the Northern Everglades & Estuaries Protection Program:
Recognizes that the Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds are critical water resources of the State
Builds upon and consolidates numerous restoration activities into a comprehensive approach
Expands use of the Save Our Everglades Trust Fund to include Northern Everglades restoration and extends it through 2020
Initial phases of these plans are now being implemented, as is planning for feasibility studies of sub-basins within each plan. Details of each of these plans, developed in 2007 and 2008 in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as with stakeholders and members of the public, are listed below.
Over 10 years, the South Florida Water Management District will invest $7 million in eight cost-effective projects to provide more than 4,800 acre-feet of water retention on local ranches in the Northern Everglades. Approved by the SFWMD Governing Board in October 2011, the projects will also help improve water quality for the greater Everglades ecosystem.
Program Benefits Environment and Economy
The projects are part of the District's Dispersed Water Management Program, which encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it, accept regional runoff for storage or do both. Dispersed water management offers many environmental and economic benefits to the region, including... more »
Reducing excess water flowing into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season
Reducing the amount of water discharged to coastal estuaries for flood protection
Providing valuable groundwater recharge for water supply
Improving water quality and rehydration of drained systems
Enhancing plant and wildlife habitat
Helping sustain the local economy by incentivizing landowners to provide greater environmental stewardship
Partnerships Enhance Water Storage Opportunities
Since 2005, the District and a variety of partners have made 142,700 acre-feet of water storage and retention available in the Everglades system – including nearly 116,000 acre-feet in the Northern Everglades – through a combination of public and private projects. Under the Dispersed Water Management Program alone, more than 100 participating private landowners are providing water retention or storage of up to 35,300 acre-feet in the Northern Everglades.
Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project – Phase II Technical Plan
The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan was developed in 2008. It builds upon and dovetails with other ongoing restoration activities and successfully consolidates many previous Lake Okeechobee restoration efforts into a broader, Northern Everglades-focused approach. more »
ABOUT THE PLAN
The coordinating agencies, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the District, evaluated various alternatives using best available technology and scientific information. Incorporating extensive input from the public, they identified the best science-based and technologically feasible options for improving lake and estuary health.
The technical plan identifies construction projects as well as agricultural and urban practices needed to achieve water quality targets for the lake. It includes other types of projects for increasing water storage north of Lake Okeechobee to achieve healthier lake levels and also reduce harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
The plan includes short-term measures as well as longer-term measures. This represents the best blueprint for achieving water quality standards while better managing lake levels.
Implementing agricultural management practices on more than 1.7 million acres of farmland
Adopting new regulations that will reduce the impacts of development on water quality and flow
Building treatment wetlands to clean water flowing into the lake
Using other innovative "green" nutrient control technologies to reduce phosphorus loads from 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
One of the existing restoration initiatives that the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project supports is the 2007 Lake Okeechobee Protection Act (LOPA, Chapter 373.4595 F.S.), a restoration and protection program called the Lake Okeechobee Protection Program. The program's goal is to achieve and maintain compliance with State water quality standards in the lake and its tributary waters through a phased, watershed-based comprehensive and innovative protection program. This program was designed to reduce phosphorus loads and implement long-term solutions, based on the lake's phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and considering the establishment of TMDLs for the lake's tributaries.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) initiated the development of a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for the Lake Okeechobee Basin in February 2013. The BMAP is the means for implementation of the adopted total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).
A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body or segment can assimilate from all sources without exceeding water quality standards. A BMAP represents a comprehensive set of water quality improvement strategies such as permit limits on wastewater facilities, urban and agricultural best management practices, conservation programs, financial assistance and revenue generating activities. The strategies are designed to implement the pollutant reductions established by the TMDL. These broad-based plans are developed in cooperation with local stakeholders, and they are adopted by FDEP Secretarial Order to be enforceable.
The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan calls for an iterative, adaptive and phased implementation process. It recommends that feasibility studies be conducted at the sub-watershed level to further define the best mix of surface storage and water quality improvement features that are most suitable in a given sub-watershed. The studies should also identify locations for siting these features and develop preliminary engineering design and cost estimates for the identified features.
Following these guidelines, the South Florida Water Management District began the development of the Fisheating Creek Sub-watershed Feasibility Report in 2008. A Working Team was established to provide technical support for Feasibility Report development.
The Caloosahatchee Watershed Protection Plan is being coordinated with the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan and the St. Lucie River Watershed Protection Plan.
This plan will address pollutant load reductions based on adopted total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). It will also include a goal for salinity levels and freshwater inflow targets for the Caloosahatchee Estuary.
The plan includes the following elements:
Caloosahatchee River Watershed Construction Project Planning, design and construction of the initial phase to improve hydrology, water quality and aquatic habitats within the watershed.
Caloosahatchee River Watershed Pollutant Control Program A multi-faceted approach to reducing pollutant loads by improving management of pollutant sources within the watershed. This will be achieved by implementing regulations and best management practices (BMPs); developing and implementing improved BMPs; improving and restoring hydrologic function of natural and managed systems; and using alternative technologies to reduce pollutants.
Caloosahatchee River Watershed Research and Water Quality Monitoring Program Builds upon the South Florida Water Management District's existing research and water quality efforts and is sufficient to carry out, comply with or assess these new projects, plans and programs.
The St. Lucie Watershed Protection Plan is being coordinated with the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan and the Caloosahatchee River Watershed Protection Plan.
This plan will address pollutant load reductions based on adopted total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). It will also include a goal for salinity levels and freshwater inflow targets for the St. Lucie Estuary.
The St. Lucie Watershed Protection Plan includes the following elements:
St. Lucie River Watershed Construction Project Planning, design and construction of the initial phase to improve hydrology, water quality and aquatic habitats within the watershed.
St. Lucie River Watershed Pollutant Control Program A multi-faceted approach to reducing pollutant loads by improving management of pollutant sources within the watershed. This will be achieved by implementing regulations and best management practices (BMPs); developing and implementing improved BMPs; improving and restoring the hydrologic function of natural and managed systems; and using alternative technologies for pollutant reduction.
St. Lucie River Watershed Research and Water Quality Monitoring Program Builds upon the South Florida Water Management District's existing
research and water quality efforts and is sufficient to carry out,
comply with or assess these new projects, plans and programs.
The Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program Watershed Protection Plans for the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee Estuaries are composed of three parts: a Construction Project, a Pollutant Control Program and a Research and Water Quality Monitoring Program (RWQMP).
The Water Quality Monitoring Program will assess the water volumes and timing from the watersheds of Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers and their relative contributions to the timing and volume of water delivered to the estuaries.
Working teams began in late 2007 to develop monitoring programs for the respective estuaries. Interested public agencies and stakeholders participated. These working teams, one for each estuary, met on a monthly basis through June 2008. Research and/or water quality parameters discussed included:
Objectives of the Research and Water Quality Monitoring Plan
Water quality status and trends
Briefings on ongoing research projects: Limiting Nutrient, Estuarine Turbidity Maximum and Benthic Flux Projects
Existing water quality monitoring inventory and assessment
Existing research and assessment
Existing models and assessment
Future research topics
The monitoring programs build upon the South Florida Water Management District's existing Research and Water Quality programs as well as existing programs of partnering agencies and groups.
A number of restoration initiatives that are part of the state-federal partnership for restoring the Everglades include projects that also support the overall goals of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program, including the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP, a state-federal partnership), the Long-Term Plan for Achieving Water Quality Goals (Everglades Forever Act) and a variety of other restoration programs and projects.
The goals and objectives of CERP and the Northern Everglades Initiative significantly overlap, hence, the efforts complement and support one another. Within the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, CERP supports implementation of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project and construction of several Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells. Further, CERP goals include implementation of several projects in watersheds adjacent to the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, such as the C-43 Reservoir project, the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area Project, the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project and ASR wells.