Corps OKs plan to move more water into Everglades National Park
More water should soon be heading to Everglades National Park.
On Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers approved a request from Gov. Rick Scott to raise the level in a Miami-Dade County canal by a foot so "substantial volumes of water" can flow from a huge man-made marsh south of Lake Okeechobee into the park.
The action is being taken primarily to keep wildlife, including deer and panthers, from drowning in the marsh, which is more than a foot deeper than it should be — and rising. The marsh, known as Water Conservation Area 3, has been taking on water from heavy rainfall since early January and drainage from farmland south of the lake.
The Corps' action has the potential to help move some excess lake water south rather than east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River. A combination of Lake O discharges and local runoff threatens to cause environmental damage to both the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The L-29 Canal runs east to west, parallel to Tamiami Trail, on the border between the park and Water Conservation Area 3. Raising the canal level a foot would allow up to 580 million more gallons of water a day to flow from the water conservation area into the park.
The South Florida plumbing system is designed so water south of the lake goes into stormwater treatment areas and then moves slowly into water conservation areas to remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus before reaching the park.
"Our current focus is to lower the water level in WCA-3," said Col. Jason Kirk, the Corps' Florida commander. "If the level drops and we start seeing capacity in the conservation areas, then we could look at sending water from Lake Okeechobee south, as well."
Lake O water is flowing into the St. Lucie River at a rate of about 2 billion gallons a day. The discharges have totaled nearly 30 billion gallons of lake water into the river since Jan. 30.
Getting water from the conservation areas into the park has been a "longtime bottleneck" in restoring flows south of the lake, said Gary Goforth, a Stuart environmental engineer who formerly designed and monitored water systems for the South Florida Water Management District.
Raising the canal level to facilitate the flow, Goforth said, "probably is the right thing to do right now."
Before granting Scott's request, the corps and the state coordinated with the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes, which have land in the area, and private property owners who face potential flooding from higher canal levels.