Scientists Grade the Everglades Reservoir Plan: F

It doesn’t work. The first scientific evaluations of Florida’s EAA reservoir plan were publicly released last week, and the findings are bleak: it can’t operate at full capacity without violating pollution standards. But it wouldn’t take much to fix it.

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The Everglades Foundation’s science team--one of only two organizations outside the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) with the expertise and technology to model the reservoir plan--spelled it out clearly. The state’s design can’t clean enough water to cut discharges or boost flows to the Everglades. The plan unravelled when the science team took a close look at the assumptions behind the project’s estimated phosphorus reduction--the key to meeting federal clean water standards. It turns out the estimates aren’t credible.

That’s the same conclusion reached by scientists at the US Department of the Interior--the other scientific organization qualified to analyze Florida’s reservoir plan.

SFWMD’s unrealistic assumptions stem from defending its decision to limit the amount of land for water treatment features. For example, the district hopes it won’t need as much acreage for filter marshes if a deep reservoir somehow improves water quality...despite experts’ concern that the opposite is likely. The district also hopes existing treatment structures can make up for the undersized project by absorbing half of its volume...despite failing to fully clean the water they get now. And when calculations showed the plan still didn’t provide enough treatment to clean the water, even after inflating all the assumptions, SFWMD simply revised the volume of water it would treat until the numbers lined up.

If we build the reservoir as designed, that’s exactly what SFWMD will need to do--reduce the volume of water it treats so the system can meet clean water standards. The Everglades Foundation science team determined that this reduction would cancel out any benefit to the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie--the estuaries would see virtually no change in discharges from this $1.76 billion project.

The Everglades Foundation report is here. You don’t need a degree to read it.

It’s not all bad news. First, the team found that with more treatment the reservoir could provide the advertised benefits to the estuaries and to Florida Bay.

(If you’ve heard rumors that historic flows never reached parts of the bay, the report puts them to rest: “While there might be debate among non-scientists, there is no debate among Florida Bay experts as to how freshwater from the Everglades gets into Florida Bay.” It’s always been the River of Grass, not just rain.)

Second, the amount of treatment acreage needed for the reservoir to operate at capacity is relatively low and available from taxpayer-owned land. Another 6,500 acres of stormwater treatment would solve the shortfall, allowing the reservoir to cut discharges and deliver clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay, especially during the driest months of the year when it’s needed most.

So now it’s up to state lawmakers and agencies like FDEP to add the acreage needed to fix SFWMD’s design and produce a plan that allows the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie to recover, restores flows to the Everglades, stabilizes Florida Bay, and protects Miami-Dade’s drinking water. They don’t have much time, but at least they know what it will take to turn Florida’s wishful thinking into a workable solution.


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