The Indian Trail Improvement District has two agreements in the works that could resolve its limited water discharge permit with the South Florida Water Management District.
ITID is allowed to discharge only a quarter-inch of stormwater per day into the SFWMD-controlled drainage system. The district has been arguing for years that The Acreage needs more external drainage capacity, but the issue jumped to the forefront in late August when the discharge shortfall was one of the key factors leading to severe flooding during Tropical Storm Isaac.
On Wednesday, ITID Administrator Tanya Quickel met with West Palm Beach officials to begin an agreement to allow the district to discharge water from its L Canal to the city’s M-1 Canal during severe storms. After Isaac, West Palm Beach allowed ITID to discharge by using two large pumps to move water to the M-1 Canal.
“We’re working with the City of West Palm Beach on the L-8 pilot pump project and a pump station,” Quickel told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “That was one of our initiatives from Tropical Storm Isaac.”
The project would connect the district’s L Canal with the city’s M Canal, which runs through The Acreage to supply water to the West Palm Beach Water Catchment Area. “We had temporary pumps there after Tropical Storm Isaac,” Quickel said.
Attorneys for both governments have reviewed the draft agreement, and SFWMD and Palm Beach County officials also are reviewing the proposal. “All these people are part of the permitting process, so we’re trying to see if there are any potential barriers,” Quickel said, explaining that the discharge would only occur when ITID has excess water. “That’s one of the initiatives we’re working on it, and it looks great.”
Also in the works, ITID wants to be part of a deal being negotiated for the county to sell the Mecca Farms property to the SFWMD for water storage as well as a “watercourse” to transfer water from the 60,000-acre J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area to the Loxahatchee Slough to restore the water supply to the Loxahatchee River. ITID is attempting to get permission to discharge there during severe storms.
In October, ITID made a presentation in a workshop hosted by County Commissioner Jess Santamaria that focused on lessons learned from Tropical Storm Isaac.
“Another of our initiatives is potentially seeking some sort of a permit for discharge or storage through Mecca Farms,” Quickel said. “There appears to be some sort of a reservoir, which is being talked about in the plans now.”
However, an agreement probably will not move forward until the sale closes.
“There is nothing we can do until South Florida has full ownership of it. What we have right now is the weir in place across what I call the Corbett Road,” Quickel said, referring to the Seminole Pratt Whitney Road easement that extends from Northlake Blvd. to the Corbett Youth Camp.
Mecca Farms served as an emergency water storage area to bring the Corbett water level down during the flooding. The SFWMD built a weir on a levee that separates the Corbett water from Mecca Farms, which allowed water to flow from Corbett. It had been so high after Isaac that it threatened to breach a levee to the south that separated Corbett from residential areas of The Acreage.
“They built the weir, which got Corbett down to its permitted elevation,” Quickel said. “It’s still in place right now. I don’t know if it will stay there permanently.”
Since Corbett has receded to its normal level of 21.5 feet, water is not currently flowing over the weir, she said.
SFWMD representative Randy Smith said the deal is being worked on to use the 1,900-acre Mecca Farms as a water storage area for the Loxahatchee River restoration project and provide the Loxahatchee Slough and the Loxahatchee River with a year-round water supply.
“Once the SFWMD completes the purchase of the Mecca Farms property from Palm Beach County, there is an existing retention area that could be used almost immediately to provide water to the Loxahatchee Slough using the C-18 Canal as the transfer,” he said. “Then the plan would be to develop a system where you would put berms up around the property to create an even larger storage area. Its sole responsibility would be for providing water for the Loxahatchee.”
The berms would be similar to the levee around Lake Okeechobee, with water control structures to release the water. “It does involve building infrastructure,” Smith said.
He said the deal is a win-win situation because it gets the county out from under a purchase that was intended to become the site of the Scripps Research Institute. That idea went sour when it was opposed by environmentalists. “It creates really an ideal spot for an important restoration project,” Smith said.
The weir allowing water to spill into Mecca from Corbett was a short-term emergency plan, but it put a rough model in place for what the SFWMD hopes to accomplish eventually. However, Smith was unsure of the future status of the Corbett weir. “We said we were going to leave it in through the wet season in case we had any more storms,” he said. “I don’t know what the timeline is for removing that.”
The county and the SFWMD are negotiating a $60 million deal for the Mecca land, involving about $30 million in cash and several pieces of property owned by the district that it no longer deems usable for water restoration but could be of greater value to the county, Smith said.