The Acreage Landowners’ Association hosted a primer on how the community’s canals and drainage systems work, during a special meeting Monday, Sept. 10.
About 30 people gathered in the Seminole Ridge High School auditorium for “Canals 101,” a presentation put on by the ALA to inform residents about drainage in the wake of flooding brought by Tropical Storm Isaac.
“The reality is that most of the issues we have are not local issues,” ALA Government Liaison Mike Erickson said. “They are more regional issues, and state and national agencies will not give us the outfall that we need.”
Erickson added, however, that there is room for improvement by the Indian Trail Improvement District. “I want you to understand the system so you can ask intelligent questions and try to push the board toward finding solutions,” said Erickson, a former member of the ITID Board of Supervisors.
He noted that the amount of rainfall from Tropical Storm Isaac was not predicted and that those responsible for draining excess water ahead of time were caught unprepared. Instead, Erickson said, officials expected to get 4 to 6 inches of rain.
“I think all the entities got caught with their pants down,” he said. “The results of this event were unheard of out here. I’ve never encountered what we encountered. The Acreage pretty much got 15 to 18 inches of rain.”
Although many residents have expressed their frustration with the flooding on Facebook, Erickson said he was disappointed that so few showed up to learn about the system.
“Shouldn’t this room be full?” he asked. “The attention span of this community only lasts as long as the problems are in front of their faces. I think this is an important issue for our community, and if I can wake up a dozen people… maybe we can make this community what it is meant to be.”
Indian Trail’s history dates back to the 1950s, when 100 square miles of land were joined together under one landowner. That became known as Indian Trail Ranches. In 1957, the property owners created the Indian Trail Improvement District “in order to build roads and canals and basically drain the swamp,” Erickson said.
When the portion that became Royal Palm Beach was sold for development, most of the area’s drainage rights went with it.
“The whole area of Indian Trail Ranches had one inch of outfall for everybody,” he said. “If you had a property, you were allowed to drain one inch of outfall in 24 hours.”
This became problematic when it came to developing Royal Palm Beach, which has the lowest elevation in the area, Erickson said.
“In order to develop Royal Palm, they needed more outfall,” he said. “So they said, ‘We’ll take the outfall from all these acres out here [in The Acreage]. They are swamps that are never going to be developed.’ So they took outfall from what is The Acreage today.”
This gave Royal Palm Beach the drainage it needs, but left the area that became The Acreage with only one-fourth of an inch until 1998. In 1995, large storms flooded the area, prompting ITID to seek more drainage rights, Erickson said.
“In 1998, the district engineer revised the existing permit [with the South Florida Water Management District] and got us some of the conditional outfall,” he said. “It took us from 1995 to 1998 to get the permit adjusted, and there have been no adjustments to that permit since.”
When The Acreage was developed, it was done in a way to help drain the area, Erickson noted. Excess water is meant to flow out of the yards and into the canal system, which is made up of both the small canals that are often found at the end of dirt roads as well as the larger canals that run throughout the area.
“The water drains into our swale and, from there, makes it to some secondary canals,” he said. “From there, it gets into the larger canals and then falls out to the community where it becomes another agency’s responsibility.”
Some water has to collect in the yards, he said, because most of the homes use well water. “The water percolates down into the soil and back into the water table,” he said. “We need to replenish those wells.”
In The Acreage, Erickson said that the lowest-lying area is south of Orange Blvd. and west of Royal Palm Beach Blvd.
“That area was hit the hardest,” he said. “If it weren’t for the canals, they would have actually had trapped water. Though they were pumping water to try and get it down, it didn’t look like the water was moving from the lowest elevation.”
Using maps and graphs, Erickson showed the area’s drainage system, which flows either out west, or north and south through the M-1 canal.
“There’s a whole balancing act,” he explained. “The M-1 impoundment pumps 500,000 gallons per minute. But the pump stations can only be turned on when there is capacity in the upper basin of the M-1 Canal.”
He explained that if the canal is overflowing, pumping more water in will “just be passing water back and forth.”
But the SWFMD’s strict environmental standards for water flowing into the Everglades can pose a problem, he said. “The pumps work, the water flows, but they don’t meet the 10 parts per million phosphates, so it’s not considered operational,” he explained.
Erickson said that the SFWMD’s priorities have shifted over the years from flood control to enforcing environmental standards. “Environmentalists have taken over, and any flood control issues have moved to the bottom,” he said.
Another issue, he said, is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who designated a crucial reservoir as a wetlands, further hindering drainage capabilities in the area.
“I don’t think they should be able to come in here and say, ‘Oh you made it so nice that it’s a wetlands now,’” he said. “There are two culprits here, if you ask me.”
Erickson encouraged the community to get involved and urge ITID to make whatever improvements it can, as well as put pressure on other agencies to prevent flooding in the future.
“We need to get people to show up and put pressure so we get the proper outfall permit,” he said.
He added, however, that it will take the community actually coming out and putting pressure on officials to solve the problem.
“Will the community wake up, or will it bury its head again when the issue is not in its face?” he asked. “We can have 1,200 people screaming on Facebook, but they don’t come out for the real answers and solutions.”