By Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District CommanderJuly 20, 2017
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This time last year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District was managing a challenging scenario fueled by heavy rains during the dry season and early part of the wet season, forcing us to release billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee to protect the Herbert Hoover Dike. One year later, I'd like to highlight the progress we have made and how we intend to address challenges that remain.
Rehabilitation of the dike continues as quickly as possible. Over the past year, we completed a study that identified the remaining features necessary to finish the job. We conducted this study while we continued replacing water control structures in the dike. These structures were prone to erosion and their replacement reduces the risk of dike failure. We have now taken action on 24 of the 32 water control structures that we need to address around the dike. We plan to award contracts this year to replace three more structures and will award a contract to resume construction of a seepage barrier west of Belle Glade. This initial contract will construct the first six miles of the 35 miles of barrier we plan to install. Additionally, the Florida Legislature recently passed a measure authorizing the State to contribute $50 million towards dike rehabilitation. We are looking into the next steps needed to be able to accept these funds.
North of Lake Okeechobee, we continue to restore the Kissimmee River. The work we have completed to date has slowed the flow of water into the lake. Last summer, we began the planning process for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. When we complete this study, we anticipate a report that will detail options for northern storage, giving us more flexibility in the timing of flows into the lake itself.
East of the lake, work continues on the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area. The Corps continues to construct the reservoir, while our partners at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) build the stormwater treatment area and the reservoir's pump station. The SFWMD is also working on the C-43 Reservoir west of the lake. Together, these features will give water managers additional flexibility in the timing and distribution of flows from the lake into the St. Lucie Canal and Caloosahatchee River. We are also in communication with the State on implementation options for Senate Bill 10.
Near Everglades National Park, we are working on key pieces of infrastructure that will allow additional flow under the Tamiami Trail bridge from Water Conservation Area-3 into the Park. When we get more water from the conservation area into the Park, it frees up space to send more water from Lake Okeechobee to the conservation areas.
However, early into this wet season, Mother Nature has given us another challenge. Heavy rains caused water levels in the conservation areas to hit their highest stages on record for this time of year. While this has not directly affected Lake Okeechobee, it has taken away any ability to send water south for a few months. We are working closely with our federal, state, and tribal interests to maximize our operational flexibility. On June 27, we implemented temporary deviations enabling us to remove an extra 17,000 Olympic-size swimming pools worth of water off the conservation areas. We also continue to look at additional options to mitigate the high water levels in the conservation areas while at the same time continuing the construction necessary to flow additional water south in the future.
The water management challenges in south Florida are important to all of us. Our team of professionals at the Jacksonville District fully understand the importance of moving forward with these projects. We will continue to work with stakeholders to find solutions that balance competing water management interests and provide long-term solutions to getting the water right in south Florida.