DEP and South Florida Water Management District fund irrigation reuse project to reduce phosphorus~
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection took a major step forward in drawing up a detailed restoration plan for Lake Okeechobee and met with key area stakeholders. At the same time, the Department has committed $4 million toward restoring the lake through an Istokpoga Marsh water quality improvement project.
This restoration plan, called a basin management action plan, or BMAP, will identify additional water quality projects moving forward, funding sources and an implementation schedule necessary to bring the Lake Okeechobee watershed back to health. Lake Okeechobee is a source of water for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries as well as the Everglades. Completing the Department’s restoration plan will be another step toward achieving the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program’s goals, set by the Florida Legislature in 2007.
“This restoration plan, along with the restoration plans for the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, are important to the health of these South Florida water bodies,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “We are grateful to the South Florida Water Management District, not only for contributing $2 million to the Istokpoga project, but for numerous nutrient-reduction projects already being implemented throughout the watershed.”
The Istokpoga Marsh water quality improvement project is located in the Istokpoga Marsh Watershed Improvement District and covers 19,262 acres acres. Upon completion, the project is expected to reduce the annual agricultural irrigation discharge from the watershed by 60 percent and cut phosphorus loading by 70 percent to the lake. Phase 1 involves construction of 308 acres of impoundments to collect runoff irrigation water and release it back into the Improvement District’s system of canals. Reusing the water will satisfy irrigation demands while reducing the amount of phosphorus that ends up in Lake Okeechobee.
“The South Florida Water Management District shares the vision for improving and restoring Lake Okeechobee, often called the “liquid heart” of South Florida,” said South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Melissa L. Meeker. “The BMAP process is essential to identify the projects, partners and funding that will help us all achieve that vision.”
The first meeting of Lake Okeechobee BMAP stakeholders was held Wednesday at the South Florida Water Management District’s Okeechobee Service Center to update the status of current Lake Okeechobee restoration efforts and discuss new efforts to achieve the long term water quality targets. The meeting also included updates on ongoing efforts by local governments and agriculture to tackle pollution problems now. It will be followed by a technical meeting in late March when the detailed work of developing new projects and management strategies will occur.
“Lake Okeechobee is a state treasure. We will do everything we can, working with the many dedicated local stakeholders, to promote innovative thinking and creative solutions that expedite restoration,” said Drew Bartlett, Director of the DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “I am particularly pleased to continue our partnership with the Istokpoga Marsh Water Improvement District and Highlands County, which continue to invest time and money toward the success of the Istokpoga project and the rest of the hard work ahead.”