The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has proposed a plan which could bring near-term relief to Florida Bay. The District has applied for permits to make some rather minor changes to existing infrastructure in Miami-Dade County which, when complete, will provide additional clean fresh water to the headwaters of Taylor Slough, a primary source of fresh water to the Bay in Everglades National Park. The District estimates these projects could double the flows of fresh water to the slough and increase sheet flow to Florida Bay.
During an average year, Florida Bay gets 45% of its fresh water from rainfall. The balance comes primarily from Taylor Slough, so any projects which facilitate fresh water flows into the slough should provide strategic benefits to the Bay. Current salinity levels in the Bay are too high which have led to seagrass die-offs and other habitat degradation.
District plans include additional connectivity of the Frog Pond detention area to the L-31 West Canal, removal of existing water gates, the re-construction of a portion of a L-31 West Canal levee between Everglades National Park and a water detention area, and the construction of a weir (a low profile concrete wall designed to facilitate steady water flow). The plan also involves other features which will help facilitate the movement of additional clean water into the Park, some of which are components of CERP C-111 spreader canal projects. The re-construction of a section of the L-31 levee would prohibit water from moving from the Park into a detention area during dry seasons. The plan includes other operational features using existing pump stations.
Once completed, these important projects will move additional clean water from the C-111 canal to the L-31 West Canal and into the headwaters of Taylor Slough. Phosphorous content of the water is currently 4 - 7 parts per billion, which is well below federal standards. In other words, the water is clean.
The District has pending permits before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the work, which can be completed before the onset of the next dry season. A key for the new flows to work is for Everglades National Park officials to allow the water to flow from these locations to the headwaters of Taylor Slough and eventually into Florida Bay. Computer models for this work demonstrate it will be successful.
The cost of these projects is estimated by the District to be $3.3 million, and the District is ready to go with the construction should it receive the required permits. The funds are already in the District budget. Importantly, the benefits to the Bay from these projects do not rely at all on any new water flows from the north, that is, they do not depend on any water coming south from the drainage canals or any other source out of Lake Okeechobee. Nor do they require a project partnership agreement with the US Army Corps of Engineers.
CCA Florida supports this District plan and is hopeful all permits are granted immediately so that these projects can commence and can be completed by year-end. Vital marine habitat in Florida Bay will be an immediate beneficiary, as will the fish.