Water Storage Strategies
Since 2005, the South Florida Water Management District has been working with a coalition of agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers to enhance opportunities for storing excess surface water on private and public lands. Over the years, these partnerships have made thousands of acre-feet of water retention and storage available throughout the greater Everglades system.
If water levels in South Florida are higher than normal during the annual rainy season, the District can utilize this storage while taking further actions to capture and store water throughout the regional water management system. Holding water on these lands is one tool to help reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and/or discharged to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during high water conditions.
Dispersed Water Management
The District's Dispersed Water Management Program encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it, accept and detain regional runoff for storage or do both. Landowners typically become involved in the program through cost-share cooperative projects, easements or payment for environmental services.
Managing water on these lands is one tool to reduce the amount of water delivered into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season and discharged to coastal estuaries for flood protection. Dispersed water management offers many other environmental and economic benefits to the region, including:
- Providing valuable groundwater recharge for water supply
- Improving water quality and rehydration of drained systems
- Enhancing plant and wildlife habitat
- Helping sustain the local economy by incentivizing landowners to provide greater environmental stewardship
Northern Everglades – Payment for Environmental Services
The Northern Everglades – Payment for Environmental Services (NE-PES) program is a partnership between water managers and private landowners to achieve water storage, water quality and habitat improvement benefits in the Northern Everglades. Since 2011, the first nine NE-PES projects have been constructed and are storing water. Collectively, these cost-effective projects provide approximately 6,700 acre-feet of water retention on local ranches in the Northern Everglades.
In December 2014, the SFWMD Governing Board approved agreements for six more NE-PES projects that will store an additional 95,812 acre-feet – more than doubling the water retention capacity of the entire Dispersed Water Management Program. The Florida Legislature appropriated $5 million in one-time funding for the projects and another $5 million in recurring funding. These projects are expected to be operational in 2016.
The successful 2005-2012 Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project (FRESP) was the pilot project used as the basis toward the creation of the NE-PES.
The SFWMD Governing Board has approved contracts for three water farming pilot projects in the St. Lucie River watershed to test the concept of storing excess surface water on privately owned fallow citrus lands.
The first two pilot projects are operational on lands owned by Caulkins Citrus Company and Spur Land & Cattle/Bull Hammock Ranch. Under the program, water is pumped onto these properties in Martin County, capturing a combined average of 7,650 acre-feet of water a year that would otherwise flow from Lake Okeechobee and surrounding basins into the St. Lucie River and Estuary.
The third pilot project on property owned by Evans Properties will provide up to 1,750 acre-feet of additional water storage in the St. Lucie watershed.
Cooperative Projects on Private Lands
Cooperative projects on private lands are agreements with private entities to share the costs of designing, permitting and constructing water-resource projects that have cost-effective benefits for the regional water management system.
The Nicodemus Slough project on 16,000 acres of wetlands in eastern Glades County is an example of this type of partnership. When Lake Okeechobee levels are high, water will be pumped from the lake's rim canal west to the highest portions of the project site. The water will then be able to move in a sheetflow east across the site through a series of cascading basins. The Nicodemus Slough project is capable of storing up to 34,000 acre-feet of water.