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May/June 2015
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Chairman's Message

Daniel O'Keefe, Governing Board Chairman

photo of Daniel O'Keefe

Editor's Note: This month's Chairman's Message has appeared as an op-ed in some South Florida newspapers.

For months, environmental groups and concerned residents have advocated for the South Florida Water Management District to exercise a 46,800-acre land purchase option with U.S. Sugar Corporation before an October deadline. After closely listening to their arguments and the technical expertise of District staff, and reviewing the option agreement, the SFWMD Governing Board voted unanimously not to exercise the option.

To hear some tell it, all of Everglades restoration — including protection of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries — will fail or at least be seriously impaired without this particular land. The Board took the opposite view — that restoration will be impaired if the District does make the purchase.

Here's why:

  • The purchase price for the land, required to be set at fair market value, is estimated at $500 million–$700 million. Using District resources even partially toward the purchase would eliminate critical funding needed for progress on restoration projects already being designed and built — on lands already purchased and in public ownership. This includes the much-needed reservoirs along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to help protect and restore those estuaries.
  • The option agreement requires the purchase of all 46,800 acres scattered over numerous parcels, eliminating the ability to purchase only the land needed for the reservoir that advocates want.
  • The contract negotiated in 2010 with U.S. Sugar also contains a 20-year "leaseback" provision on the option lands. Of the 46,800 acres in this option, the District could currently access only 1,100 acres — insufficient for the reservoir project.
  • If constructed at a future date, a large reservoir at the suggested location would require extensive new canals, pump stations and other structures to move water to and from the project. Engineering and construction estimates are at least $1 billion for additional infrastructure alone.
  • This project would do very little to decrease discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

The District has prioritized its resources to complete water quality and water storage projects already underway in order to reap the benefits from these projects as soon as possible. In the coming years, this agency is fully committed to directing staff resources and public dollars on three critical efforts:

  • Identified Restoration Strategies projects to improve Everglades water quality
  • Priority projects in the state-federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), including the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs
  • Moving water south through implementation of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP)

Each of these large-scale initiatives has received broad public support and collectively are the wisest and most cost-effective path forward.

All of this work will require a significant financial commitment from the State of Florida and its federal partners. For the State's part, Governor Scott has proposed an ambitious $5 billion funding plan over the next 20 years for Everglades restoration, most of which should be matched by the federal government, creating a $9 billion source of funds.

The Governor's proposed funding includes money to plan for the best, most cost-efficient locations for additional restoration projects, including additional water storage needed both north and south of Lake Okeechobee.

If approved during the Legislature's special session, this dedicated, ongoing source of revenue would eliminate the "stops and starts" that slowed restoration work in the past and frustrated advocates. It is a significant investment for steady progress that we should all get behind — not a costly land buy with too many strings attached.

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June is 'Flood Awareness Month' in South Florida

SFWMD highlights what to expect in heavy rain as wet season begins

photo water flowing through structureWith a $13 billion flood control system stretching from Orlando to the Florida Keys, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) recognizes June as Flood Awareness Month to highlight what residents can expect during the rainy season.

"The District's core mission is to ensure thousands of miles of canals and hundreds of structures are providing flood protection for more than 8 million residents," said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory, P.E. "Each June, we remind residents how this extensive regional system interacts with local drainage systems to protect communities across South Florida."

When it Rains … A Three-Tiered Flood Control System
During the wet season, South Florida sees about 35 inches of rainfall, or two-thirds of the annual total in the region. 

  • Tier 1 Drainage: Swales in yards and outside businesses, along with recreational areas, are designed to temporarily store stormwater that does not soak into the ground. Excess water slowly drains via street and yard drainage grates to community lakes and ponds. These localized systems, maintained by individual homeowners or homeowners associations, are typically where residents see standing water during heavy rainfall.
  • Tier 2 Drainage: After rainwater flows from yards and neighborhoods, it moves through underground pipes to canals, structures, storage areas and pumping stations that are maintained by cities, counties or local drainage districts.
  • Tier 3 Drainage: The SFWMD's primary canals and pumping stations receive excess stormwater from Tier 2 systems, channeling the water to storage areas or to coastal discharge points.

The SFWMD's Role
During typical summer rains and in tropical storm events, the District utilizes a public network of 2,100 miles of canals, 600 water control structures, 70 pump stations and related infrastructure to move water away from populated and agricultural areas.

SFWMD engineers and water managers monitor weather conditions and water levels around-the-clock from a high-tech control room at agency headquarters in West Palm Beach. Structures are opened as needed to lower water levels in anticipation of heavy rainfall and excess water is routed through the system to storage areas or the coast.

During emergencies, SFWMD water managers may activate an advanced, hurricane-hardened Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Primary functions of the EOC include:

  • Providing organized response under the National Incident Management System
  • Directing preparation/inspection of the flood control system before a storm
  • Completing damage assessment and beginning repairs or debris removal from the SFWMD regional flood control system
  • Moving flood waters as quickly and as safely as possible
  • Coordinating with local governments to help them move water

Local governments, police and fire and public safety departments are responsible for emergency response during a storm.

Maintenance: Keeping the Flow Going
The District has an extensive program of structural maintenance and upgrades — carried out primarily during the dry season — that is critical to ensuring the regional flood control system operates at optimal capacity.

During the past six years, the District has put more than $300 million to work in performing capital improvement work on the regional system. These efforts include overhauling water control structures and refurbishing pump stations.

In addition, field station staff complete essential system maintenance each day, including,

  • Completing year-round preventative maintenance of critical pumps, gear boxes and main engines
  • Ensuring continuous operation of industrial electrical systems that run critical monitoring equipment, such as water level and water velocity gauges
  • Maintaining a fleet of heavy equipment and vehicles
  • Staffing large pump stations during storm events to keep the flood control system operating

What You Can Do
Residents play a part to prepare by:

  • Knowing the agency responsible for managing nearby canals
  • Keeping ditches, swales, drainage grates and retention lakes clear of debris, trash and other discarded material
  • Reporting the location and condition of any clogged or damaged facilities to the proper authority
  • Making sure trees or other vegetation do not encroach on canal maintenance right-of-way

For more information, see:

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SFWMD Construction Cam Offers a Look at Project Progress

C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area has reached several milestones

photo of C-44 Perched on a 300-foot-tall communications tower, a high-tech webcam is now sending images of progress on a 16-billion-gallon reservoir and 6,300-acre wetland being constructed to store and clean water headed for the St. Lucie River and Estuary.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) installed the camera to track work at the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area in Martin County. When construction is complete, the project will help reduce stormwater runoff, improve water quality and restore native wetland and upland habitat in the estuary and watershed.

"The public now has a bird's-eye view of progress on a project critically important to residents who live, work and play around the St. Lucie River and Estuary," said SFWMD Governing Board Vice Chairman Kevin Powers, whose area includes Martin County. "It's exciting to see planning efforts and taxpayer dollars being turned into a project reality."

Features of the C-44 construction cam include:

  • Automatic posting of pictures every 2 hours on the SFWMD's public website:
  • A calendar of archived photos showing the same view on different days
  • Daily panoramas of the construction site
  • Ability to zoom in and out of the high-resolution photos

Project Progress
To date, several milestones have been achieved on the C-44 project, including:

  • In March 2015, the District approved a $40 million contract to construct a 21,000-square-foot, three-story pump station, with four remotely operated electric pumps capable of delivering 1,100 cubic feet (about 8,228 gallons) per second from the C-44 Canal into the new reservoir.
  • In September 2014, the District invested approximately $101 million in a contract to construct the STA portion of the project, which includes 32 miles of berms, 30 miles of canals and 56 concrete water control structures. Inside the berms, plants such as cattails, pickerel weed and bulrush will remove and store nutrients, including phosphorus, from the water before it flows to the river and estuary.
  • In August 2014, the District awarded an approximately $5.4 million contract for construction of the spillway that will serve as the single point of water movement out of the entire project.
    • Strategically completing the spillway early in the construction timeline will allow the SFWMD to store additional water on the project, helping to reduce excess water flow to the estuary — even before the reservoir and stormwater treatment area are complete. This work will allow water managers to retain local runoff on approximately 7,000 acres of the 12,000-acre project site.
  • In July 2014, the District approved a major agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which was originally constructing all components of the project — allowing the SFWMD to expedite construction of the STAs, a pump station and a portion of the project discharge canal.

Indian River Lagoon
The St. Lucie River and Estuary is part of the larger Indian River Lagoon system, the most diverse estuarine environment in North America. It is home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species, including manatees, oysters, dolphins, sea turtles and seahorses.

For more information, see:

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SFWMD Approves Cost-Credit Agreement for Caloosahatchee Reservoir

Early start of construction on the project will provide storage benefits sooner

photo of Caloosahatchee RiverThe South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has authorized entering into an agreement designed to help the District receive federal cost credit for expediting construction of key portions of the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir. The project to protect the river and estuary is cost-shared between the District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"This agreement with the U.S. Department of the Army moves us closer to realizing benefits from a greatly needed project," said SFWMD Governing Board member Rick Barber. "It also helps preserve the substantial investment by Florida taxpayers to restore a local water resource."

Expedited Work
As part of Governor Rick Scott's commitment to Everglades restoration, the SFWMD intends to undertake construction of a portion of the C-43 facility, a project under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The SFWMD proposes to expedite construction of Phase 1, which will include the following project features:

  • Embankment and associated structures of the western cell of the reservoir
  • Full perimeter canal
  • Two pump stations
  • Improvements to the Townsend Canal between the reservoir and the Caloosahatchee River
  • A manatee protection feature at the mouth of the Townsend Canal

"Construction of the reservoir is critical to protecting the ecological health of the Caloosahatchee and maintaining the economy of Southwest Florida," added Barber. "And this project was identified as the top regional priority of area stakeholders during recent public community forums."

The SFWMD's construction will be initiated before entering into a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In order to maintain eligibility to receive future credit for the costs of performing this expedited construction, the SFWMD must enter into this Pre-Partnership Credit Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps must also sign the agreement.

C-43 Project Overview
The C-43 reservoir project was authorized last year by Congress in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014.

It will one day hold approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water to be used during dry periods to help maintain a desirable minimum flow of fresh water to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. During the rainy season, the reservoir will capture and store excess stormwater and regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee, helping to prevent excessive freshwater flows to the estuary.

Since 2012, the SFWMD has put the reservoir property to use with emergency water storage of summertime rainfall and high runoff. Temporary pumps and levee improvements have helped capture approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water that would have otherwise flowed to the river.

For more information on projects to protect and improve the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, visit

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From Savings to Supply: New SFWMD Storage Area Shows Dual Benefit

Nicodemus Slough begins supplying needed water to the Caloosahatchee River

photo of Nicodemus SloughIn May, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) began supplying water for the first time from the Nicodemus Slough water storage area in Glades County to benefit the health of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary and local agricultural fields.

"Nicodemus Slough successfully provided some relief from high discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries when there was too much water earlier this year," said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD Director of the Operations, Engineering and Construction Division. "Now, the project is proving its potential to also provide water supply to the regional system, including flows needed to maintain healthy salinity levels in one of the region's vital waterways."

Water Supply
With Lake Okeechobee's level falling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, announced in mid-May it was following its federal guidelines by reducing flows from the lake to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary. 

District engineers, in coordination with the Corps, determined water could be moved from Nicodemus Slough to the river to replace some of the decreased but needed water.

Water was moving by gravity through gates at the site at about 1.3 million gallons an hour, with potential to increase the water deliveries. From there, it followed a route through the C-19 Canal and into Lake Hicpochee, which will see some rehydration benefits, and into the river.

Operations at Nicodemus Slough will continue until it's no longer environmentally desirable or the water can no longer be delivered via gravity.

Water Storage
Located south of Fisheating Creek on the western bank of the lake, the Nicodemus Slough project was intended to provide interim water storage until projects such as the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir are completed. In a cooperative agreement with Lykes Brothers, the District is leasing the property for an investment of $2 million a year for eight years, with an option to extend the agreement.

The project can store an annual average of 34,000 acre-feet of water, or about 11 billion gallons.

In response to high water levels in Lake Okeechobee in January, the SFWMD began operation of Nicodemus Slough to capture some of the water being released by the Corps from the lake before it reached the river and estuary.

Full-capacity pumping sent water onto the 16,000-acre project area, utilizing four pumps moving more than 30,000 gallons of water each per minute.

Nicodemus Slough is one of multiple actions the SFWMD has taken to expand water storage opportunities. Since 2005, the District and a variety of partners worked together to enhance water storage opportunities on private and public lands through the agency's Dispersed Water Management Program.

Approximately 87,000 acre-feet of water retention and storage has been made available in the greater Everglades system through the program, with the majority located in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. Nearly 100,000 acre-feet of additional storage, including six new projects approved in December 2014, are under development.

For more information, see:

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Ready 'Freddy': Water Managers Prepare for Hurricane Season

Annual 'Hurricane Freddy' exercise readies SFWMD for response to storms

Hurricane Freddy logoThe South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) conducted its annual "Hurricane Freddy" exercise on May 21 as part of the agency's emergency operations readiness for hurricane season.

"The District manages $13 billion of infrastructure, with 2,000 miles of canals, 70 pump stations and 700 gates and weirs," said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory, P.E. "When a storm hits, moving water through this system protects the 8 million residents in our region. This annual exercise keeps us prepared for the hurricane season ahead."

Throughout the day, trained District staff practiced emergency management and flood control procedures in response to Hurricane Freddy 2015, a simulated major storm.

This year’s test scenario included:

  • "Freddy" was 160 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, moving northwest from the central Bahamas at 20 mph with sustained winds of 100 mph.
  • SFWMD teams convened to analyze the storm before it made landfall, including modeling the potential impacts to flood control operations.
  • The storm made landfall on the eastern coast of South Florida as a major hurricane, bringing between 8 and 10 inches of rain in localized areas.

Throughout South Florida, flood control is a shared responsibility between the District, county and city governments, local drainage districts and residents. More information about the regional flood control system and what residents can do to help prepare for storms is available in the District's Rain Drain: What to Expect in Your Neighborhood When it Rains brochure. For more information on the District's emergency operations, please visit our Emergency Management website.

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SFWMD Engineer Recognized for Work to Protect the St. Lucie Estuary

American Society of Civil Engineers honors the C-44 Reservoir/STA project manager

photo of Sue Ray

Sue Ray, the South Florida Water Management District's (SFWMD) principal engineer for the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) project, has been named Government Engineer of the Year by the Palm Beach Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The C-44 project in Martin County is a major restoration initiative to protect the St. Lucie River and Estuary.

"From engineering and science to computer modeling and mechanics, the District's technical staff helps us every day to solve real challenges in water management," said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory, P.E. "Sue is an outstanding engineer whose dedication to this restoration project is evidenced by this prestigious recognition."

The award, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "honors an individual who, through their activities and endeavors, has attained significant professional achievement to society and the engineering profession." As the recipient for Palm Beach, Ray was also nominated for the state-level award. In May, she was also recognized by the SFWMD Governing Board as the District's employee of the month.

The overall C-44 Reservoir and STA project will help capture, store and clean local stormwater runoff before it reaches the St. Lucie River and Estuary.

Four components of the project are currently under construction with an investment of $150 million. A fifth construction contract is expected to start later this year, another in a series of recent milestones, including:

  • In July 2014, the SFWMD Governing Board approved a major agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which was originally constructing all components of the project — allowing the SFWMD to expedite construction of the STA, a pump station and a portion of the project discharge canal.
  • In August 2014, the Board awarded an approximately $5.4 million contract for construction of the spillway that will serve as the single point of water movement out of the entire project.
  • In September 2014, the Board invested approximately $101 million in a contract to construct the water cleaning, 6,300-acre wetland STA portion of the project.
  • In March, the Board approved a $40 million contract to build the pump station needed to move water from the C-44 Canal to its connected 3,400-acre reservoir, capable of storing about 16 billion gallons of water.

Ray is a rural Pennsylvania native and a 1984 graduate of the Pennsylvania State University with a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering.  She worked for 15 years as a project engineer in the jet and rocket engine industry for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and General Electric Aircraft Engines, working on primarily development of military jet engine programs.

Ray also worked on the Space Shuttle Main Engine Turbopump Program as a manufacturing, assembly and test engineer and is a Florida Licensed Professional Engineer. 

Ray joined the SFWMD in 2000, performing watershed assessment modeling for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed, managing the Western C-11 Water Quality Improvement Critical Restoration Project and supervising the Biscayne Bay and Lower East Coast section, among other work.

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Purple Prevails During Water Reuse Week

Florida leads the nation in water reuse, reducing demand on traditional water supplies

photo of purple pipes

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board recognized May 17-23, 2015, as Water Reuse Week to promote the benefits of using reclaimed water as part of a continuing effort to protect regional water supplies.

"Water reuse is an essential part of our comprehensive strategy to ensure reliable supplies of water for the future," said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory, P.E., who also is on the board of directors for the national WateReuse Association. "Better technologies are now available to implement water reuse, providing long-term benefits to all water users, the environment and our regional economy."

Only 1 percent of the water on earth is fit for drinking, and all water on the planet is essentially reused. Designer water technologies, which customize treatment levels for an array of applications, are available today to meet any water need: residential, commercial, agricultural or industrial.

Reclaimed water projects ease demand on traditional sources of water and reduce discharges into the ocean. Florida leads the nation in water reuse. Within the District's 16-county region, more than 110 reuse systems produce and reuse 271 million gallons of reclaimed water per day.

Water reuse involves treating domestic wastewater and using the resulting high-quality reclaimed water for a beneficial purpose. Extensive treatment and disinfection ensure that public health and environmental quality are protected.

Reclaimed water can be used for many purposes, including:

  • Irrigation of golf courses, parks, residential properties, highway medians and other green space
  • Commercial use such as car and airplane washing, mixing concrete, laundry, cooling and air conditioning
  • Saltwater intrusion barriers
  • Aesthetic landscape features, such as decorative lakes, ponds and fountains
  • Agricultural irrigation
  • Environmental restoration and wetland creation
  • Groundwater recharge

Communities that reuse water are able to grow in size while minimizing or even reducing their impact on the water resources they depend on. In addition, use of reclaimed water allows communities to postpone or minimize their capital investments in developing new, more costly water sources and supplies. Further, reclaimed water is exempt from SFWMD landscape irrigation restrictions.

The SFWMD, along with local governments and organizations throughout the state, recognizes Water Reuse Week each year during the third full week of May, just as the dry season comes to an end.

For more information, see:

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