By: Dr. Stephen Davis, Wetland Ecologist, Everglades Foundation
Water levels in Lake Okeechobee and the central Everglades are rising as south Florida deals with a surplus of water from Tropical Storm Isaac, along with a very wet rainy season. More than 1 billion gallons of water are being dumped from Lake Okeechobee in order to keep the lake at a safe operational level. These massive water releases disrupt the salinity levels of the delicate Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, with the threat of harmful algal blooms lingering on the horizon.
Florida is in need of a solution for its water woes, and water storage is the missing piece of the puzzle.
The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) is the next phase of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). CEPP is designed to reduce damaging discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, restore habitat in the central Everglades, and deliver additional clean water to the central Everglades including Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3), Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay.
This innovative pilot project will reduce planning time from the current 6 years or more to 18 months, creating a tremendous opportunity to cut red tape, reduce planning costs, save time, and provide more immediate life support for the deteriorating Everglades-Florida Bay ecosystem. CEPP will utilize existing state-owned lands within the Everglades Agricultural Area for storage and treatment of water to be directed to the Everglades. Costs of this effort are shared in a 50:50 partnership between the federal government and state of Florida, as designated by CERP.
Scientists have long recognized the need to remove barriers to flow while providing for water supply to the urban population. To accomplish these objectives, CEPP will bundle elements of existing CERP projects (i.e., “Decompartmentalization,” water storage and seepage control) and will depend on new bridging to take place along Tamiami Trail in a first major step towards restoring the “River of Grass.” Together, these elements will restore the natural sheetflow pattern through WCA-3 into Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough of Everglades National Park.
By minimizing marsh dry-down in the spring and re-routing flows back into northeast Shark River Slough, CEPP is expected to improve conditions for wading birds and endangered species such as the Everglades Snail Kite and Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.
These increased flows should also benefit Florida Bay and estuaries along the southwest coast of Florida by improving salinity conditions and habitat for Roseate spoonbills, the American crocodile, and several recreationally and commercially important species of estuarine fish and shellfish including Snook, Red drum, Spotted seatrout, Blue crab, and Pink shrimp.
The timeline for delivery of a tentatively selected plan for CEPP is by the end of 2012.
However, preliminary modeling indicates that the project could deliver as much as 65 billion gallons of additional clean water to the Everglades each year. This is nearly 2/3 of the total volume anticipated under the entire Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and will go a long way towards restoring habitat for Everglades fish and wildlife to its natural state.
To learn more, visit: http://www.sfrestore.org/cepp/cepp.html