Proposed designs for a costly freshwater reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee won’t get the job done for Florida Bay, many Florida Keys fishing guides agree.
“We need to do this the way it’s supposed to be done,” Steve Friedman, commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, said Tuesday.
“Our livelihood depends on it,” Friedman said. “We know the condition of [Florida] Bay. We want to see it improve and we know we have to get involved to make it happen.”
More than 100 guides from the Keys and Southwest Florida’s Captains for Clean Water group met with conservationists Jan. 9 in Islamorada to review plans for the storage-and-treatment reservoir newly forwarded by the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency overseeing Everglades system restoration efforts.
“What the Water Management District is talking about is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen,” Friedman said. “It’s really scary.... When you look at the models of existing and future water flows into Florida Bay, to the naked eye you can’t see a real difference for the bay.”
The guides signed an open letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to intervene in the process to ensure the reservoir achieves its intended environmental function.
Thomas Van Lent, a Key Largo resident who serves as chief scientist to the nonprofit Everglades Foundation, said at the meeting that current proposals to build a smaller but deeper reservoir “were untenable and specifically would not allow adequate cleansing for stored water before being sent to the Florida Bay,” according to the Florida Keys guides group.
“We need sheet flow,” Friedman said. “We need cattails to serve as the cleaning agent for the water, and cattails can’t grow in water 14 feet deep.”
Some of the proposed models would go as deep as 23 feet, according to a Water Management District summary issued this week. A larger, shallower reservoir is critical, conservation-group scientists contend.
Florida legislators approved Senate Bill 10 in the 2017 session, which authorizes work on the storage reservoir. Estimated costs could run from $1.3 billion to $1.7 bill, reports indicate. The state and federal governments are expected to share the costs. Planning will continue through 2018.
“Harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges have plagued the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers for decades,” a Captains for Clean Water statement released Monday says. “Meanwhile, Florida Bay has been starved of freshwater, which resulted in a 40,000-acre seagrass die-off in the summer of 2015. The SFWMD did not give SB10 a fair chance. They designed concepts for a reservoir that are simply too small, at the expense of America’s Everglades, our jobs and our economy.”
The “reservoir will significantly reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges, improve flow to the Everglades and achieve state water-quality standards,” a statement from SFWMS board chairman Dan O’Keefe says. “These alternatives ... are built on a foundation of sound science.”