provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Efforts to reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary include two massive new reservoirs, said Chauncey Goss, the keynote speaker at the mid-March Committee of the Islands annual meeting at the Community House.
Goss, now chair of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District, is hopeful new projects can help better protect the coast in the future from what occurred in the devastating 2018 red tide/blue-green algae calamity. Goss, a Sanibel native and former council member, was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the state’s largest water board that manages resources in a 16-county area stretching from Orlando to the Keys.
Goss described a future reservoir known as C-43 due for completion in 2024 that will store 170,000 acre feet of fresh water (an acre foot is the amount of water to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot). C-43 should reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee Estuary during the wet season and provide needed fresh water during the dry season.
One of the district’s goals is restoring South Florida’s natural water resources, he said. The Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir, created by the Florida Legislature in 2017 and to be constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be even larger, a 240,000 acre-foot reservoir and a 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area. This monumental project is intended to increase restoration water flows to the Everglades and reduce coastal estuary discharges.
Goss said that Gov. DeSantis’ budget commitment of $2.5 billion will support dozens of projects over the next several years. “We’re optimistic that we can finish projects and can manage water so much better than in the past,” said Goss.
The challenge, he said, is balancing the often conflicting water needs of agriculture, consumers, flood control and environmental protection. The Southwest Florida water district, founded in 1949 after severe storms in 1947, encompasses 18,000 square miles of diverse ecosystems and 3 million acres of agriculture. The district serves 8.7 million residents.
The keys are flexibility and balance, said Goss, as he enumerated the various interests to be considered, including “equitably delivering water supply to society and the environment for beneficial uses during the dry season; increasing the tolerance for short-term higher lake stages during the wet season to avoid harmful estuary discharges; and maintaining the other congressionally authorized purposes of flood control, navigation, and recreation.” He said, “You have to find the sweet spot between certainty and flexibility.”
He addressed pollution questions. “Even if it isn’t coming from the lake, we still have pollution,” he said. Through efforts including monitoring and the “huge difference in nutrient releases” that can be achieved through best management practices for farming, he concluded, “Good work is being done.”