Everglades project may drain well field in Miami-Dade County

Junette Reyes/Staff Writer

Water throughout the Miami-Dade county area could be disappearing fast.

An Everglades restoration project may affect a well field that supplies Miami-Dade County with much of its drinking water.

The plan itself, titled the Central Everglades Planning Project, is a form of experimentation from the partnering of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, along with a “working group” of other state and federal agencies, environmentalists and outdoors groups.

The plan is expected to use up to 65 million gallons of water annually to revive the dehydrated Everglades and salty Florida Bay as well as relieve parts of the marsh where flooding has been historically high, which has caused the destruction and demise of tree islands and wildlife populations.

Alternatives have been combined into a new plan known as 4R, which will include a seepage barrier meant to moderate the groundwater flow from the Everglades to the suburbs.

This can turn out to be problematic, though, because it can affect, and even diminish, the water flow to Miami-Dade’s well fields.

Leonard J. Scinto, director of the Southeast Environmental Research Center at FIU, believes in being able to tweak the plan as needed moving forward and that people should not worry about not getting enough water.

“It’s always kind of this balance between too much water and too little water,” said Scinto. “The problem is how you manage those extremes for [a] constant supply of fresh water to taps [and] constant release from flooding during the periods of high water.”

Scinto said that one of the main points of the plan is that there is going to be an additional 200 thousand to 240 thousand acre-feet, which would add about 10 to 15 percent more to the total volume of water that is currently in the system.

“More water is good,” said Scinto. He noted that this can also mean more natural flow characteristics.

The importance of the Central Everglades plan lies not only in the restoration of the Everglades through the returning of healthy water flows to the marsh but also in the endeavor of moving past Congress’ drawn-out 30-year restoration plan, titled the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which was approved in 2000. The U.S Army Corps intends to speed up the planning process alone from 5 or 6 years to 18 months.

However, the speediness of the planning as well as the short time of frame to deal with possible issues is actually a concern for some, such as Central Everglades program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association and working group member, Dawn Shirreffs.

“Things kind of slowed up a bit in the last couple of years and this is one way of trying to get things back on track; it’s not that we’re moving superfast, it’s just that we’re playing catch-up for a couple of slow years,” said Scinto.

Scinto expands on this by saying that everyone will have an issue, despite how very well vetted the plans are.

“I’d like to see more water down the Southeast side of Everglades National Park; I work in that area and I know it’s drier than it has been historically,” said Scinto.

Scinto said they will eventually end up with a “compromised model” because of differing opinions.

Scinto said it is all to supply the most good for the most uses, such as urban water withdrawal, urban flood protection, ecological restoration, the Everglades National Park and hydrologic restoration of Florida Bay.

A plan of restoration has not been formally selected yet but it is expected to happen by April 2013, followed by Congress’ approval of funding. The plans will probably go unsupported, however, until deficiencies are addressed.