About 15 miles south of Lake Okeechobee, and miles from the nearest road in the heart of the Everglades Agricultural Area, bulldozers have begun clearing a 560-acre piece of land that in time will become a stormwater treatment area. But, for now, it will be used to store rock to build a long-awaited reservoir.
“We are tremendously excited to be expediting construction that is absolutely necessary," said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chairman Federico Fernandez.
“This is where the water will start moving south. It will be stored in the reservoir just to our left here, flow through the stormwater treatment area, get that treatment as it moves down south through Water Conservation Area 3-A and down to Everglades National Park," added Chief Engineer John Mitnick.
Site preperation work will continue at the stormwater treatment area for the next few years. As for the main reservoir, it’s about a mile away. When it’s complete, it will be 10,000 acres in size, about the same size as Palm City.
The 23-foot deep reservoir should reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee by about two-thirds. Completion though is still about 8 years away.
“Delay is not an option. Every day we’re not out here is a day we lose going forward," said Fernandez.
This action comes just a week after the South Florida Water Management District was criticized by some for extending a lease on part of the reservoir site to a sugar company.
The district says the law allows for agriculture operators to continue to farm until the site is needed for construction.
The district also will get a million dollars in rent annually.
“That million dollars is used for things like exotic control in the Lox Refuge. So having that income is important to the district," said Ernie Marks, the executive director of the SFWMD.
Florida and the federal government will split the $1.8 billion price tag.