Lake Okeechobee Redirect Plan

Article from TC Palm:

Engineers trying to recreate the ‘River of Grass’

  • Posted July 7, 2013 at 4 a.m.

Research isn’t needed to know what’s damaging the southern lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary that flows into it. Discharges of freshwater from Lake Okechobee; brown, foamy and laden with pollutants — kill oysters and seagrasses and can trigger algae blooms and fish kills.

The ultimate solution also is known: Move the water south in a reiteration of the “River of Grass”; from Lake O to theEverglades, where the water desperately is needed.

Between the lake and the Everglades, however, is theEverglades Agricultural Area, a vast stretch of privately held land used primarily for sugar cane farming. An effort by the state in 2008 to buy 180,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar was dramatically scaled back when the recession emptied state coffers.

Instead of the “flow way” south, a number of construction projects designed to improve water quality in the estuary and lagoon are being undertaken by local, state and federal agencies as part of the Indian River Lagoon/South segment of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.


The largest is the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area along the St. Lucie Canal in western Martin County. After a groundbreaking in 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers began work in 2011 on the $364 million C-44 project, which is designed to cleanse about two-thirds of the runoff flowing into the St. Lucie Canal when it’s completed in about 2020. Of $70 million set aside by the state for Everglades restoration in 2013-14, $20 million is to go toward construction of the C-44 project.


This effort is designed to speed up restoration in the heart of the Everglades by directing water south on land that’s already publicly owned. It was adopted by federal and state officials in October 2011, and a final plan is due by the end of the year.

The goal of the project is to reduce the flow of Lake Okeechobee water to the St. Lucie Estuary to the east and the Caloosahatchee River to the west.

The problem, say some estuary advocates, is that reducing releases aren’t the same as eliminating releases.


Progress is at a standstill on this reservoir and stormwater treatment area west of Fort Pierce.

Completed by the corps in late 2005, it sits empty because it leaks and the prospect of fixing it is mired in litigation.


A $3 million appropriation to add a second phase to a stormwater treatment project on Danforth Creek, a Palm City stream polluting the St. Lucie Estuary, survived Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen. The project will remove about 85 percent of the nutrients from the creek’s water before it enters the estuary through a process that combines chemical treatment with alum and wetlands.

The innovative process “could be a real game changer for the way water treatment is done in the future,” said Deborah Drum, manager of ecosystem restoration and management for Martin County.

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