The Central Everglades Planning Project is an important component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). To review, CERP was authorized by Congress in 2000 by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) as a plan to restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem, among other things. By just about any measure, CERP is one of the most ambitious hydrologic restoration projects in U.S. history. Given the complexity involved, CERP's original timeline was in excess of 30 years, and its price tag was initially in excess of $10 billion. In reality, and sadly, CERP will take longer and cost more than its earlier estimates to fully implement.
CEPP's constituent parts involve storage, treatment, and conveyance of water just south of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and in other areas further south toward Everglades National Park. Vital goals of CEPP include the reduction of undesirable water discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary systems, the delivery of greater volumes of clean water to the Water Conservation Areas (WCA's) and to northern Everglades National Park, and the restoration of important habitat throughout the central Everglades system. It is estimated CEPP projects may be able to deliver in excess of 60% of the water volumes CERP aspires to ultimately convey southward.
Parcels A-1 and A-2 identified above, already owned by the state of Florida, will play a critical role in expanding water storage, treatment, and conveyance south of Lake Okeechobee.
In 1999, the State of Florida purchased over 50,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee from the Talisman Sugar Company to provide water capacity to complete certain projects. A large portion of the purchased land is in southwestern Palm Beach County and is immediately north and northwest of Storm Water Treatment Area (STA) 3/4, which also serves as a popular state-managed wintertime waterfowl hunting site. These properties, also referred to as parcels A-1 and A-2, or the EAA Storage Reservoirs, will serve as critical CEPP storage and treatment facilities for water that will be fed to them from both the Miami Canal and the North New River Canal coming out of Lake Okeechobee. Construction on A-1 is largely complete and is in partial use today, but required work on A-2 still needs to be funded. It is important to note that land needed for CEPP projects is already in State hands, so no additional real estate purchases are necessary to implement CEPP projects, and they therefore offer the best near-term opportunities for relief to the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee.
The planned flow of the water will work as follows for the most part: From Lake Okeechobee the water will flow south through the Miami Canal (L-24) and the North New River Canal (L-19). From the two canals via pump stations and control structures into A-1 and A-2. At 4 feet deep, A-1, the largest of 3 flow equalization basins, can store over 60,000 acre feet of water (or about 20 billion gallons) during peak storm water periods. A-2, possibly designed to be shallower and serve a somewhat different purpose, will have a capacity between 15,000 and 45,000 acre feet (the capacity of both parcels could be expanded in the future). After temporarily storing water, A-1 and A-2 will deliver flows into STA 2 and STA 3/4 for additional nutrient reduction and treatment, although A-1 and A-2 will provide habitat for emergent vegetation which will help start the nutrient reduction process. Once treated in STA 2 and STA 3/4, the water will then be transitioned into the northwest and central part of Water Conservation Area 3A via spreader canals. The water then makes its way from WCA 3A to WCA 3B with enhanced sheet flow, and then from WCA 3B it is delivered to Everglades National Park.
Although these steps somewhat over-simplify the water flow process, they attempt to provide a general outline for additional storage, treatment, and conveyance of water from Lake Okeechobee. CEPP also involves the backfilling of a part of the Miami Canal that will help distribute water coming out of the STA's. In all, CEPP projects could ultimately provide up to 200,000 acre feet (or about 65 billion gallons) of dynamic storage once operational. It is important to note the WCA's cannot serve as water reservoirs and must follow Federal water level regulations. This requires a delicate hydrologic balance since water levels in the WCA's cannot exceed Federal guidelines, primarily due to management efforts involving a broad range of wildlife species, some of which are classified as endangered. Water levels in the WCA's also can have a significant impact on urban water supplies for Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.
The "Next Steps" project, also supported by CCA Florida and also a critical CEPP component, involves the building of an additional 2.6 mile bridge along Tamiami Trail which, once completed, will allow more water to flow into Everglades National Park once it makes its way from WCA 3B into the L-29 Canal, helping to restore some ecological connectivity between the water conservation areas and the Park (over ten miles of bridging of the Tamiami Trail will ultimately be built, with one mile of bridge having already been completed). CEPP also includes seepage barriers, or curtain walls, along the eastern corridor of the WCA's and ENP that will help with flood control for areas of Broward and Miami Dade Counties. It will also play a role in insuring an adequate drinking water supply to South Florida. Other CEPP elements involve the removal of miles of existing canals and levees, which will facilitate the water flow patterns described above, as well as modifications to several pump stations.
As important as CEPP is, more needs to be done to tackle South Florida's water problems, as CCA has previously acknowledged on several occasions, such as the completion of all CERP foundation projects, and several others. Nonetheless, CEPP has the best chance to help provide the earliest relief to our estuary systems, and CCA strongly encourages all aspects of CEPP be authorized and funded. The South Florida Water Management District and Florida's Department of Environmental Protection have approved CEPP, as has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as of May of this year. CEPP projects are currently included in the current WRDA legislation making its way through committee in the U.S House and U.S. Senate, and several other administrative steps required by law need to occur for full authorization.