County Commission Joins In Support Of C-51 Reservoir Project

The Palm Beach County Commission joined the South Florida Water Management District and other water agencies Tuesday, Nov. 29 to support the C-51 Reservoir project near 20-Mile Bend. It’s intended to restore water to the Loxahatchee River and control flooding in The Acreage, among other benefits.

The commissioners also heard reports on other water-related projects, including an effort to control invasive exotic plant species inside the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and supply water south to Broward County.

A diverse group of water managers asked commissioners to support a locally preferred option that will use the C-51 Reservoir to provide a better water supply, reduce freshwater flow to the Lake Worth Lagoon and enhance flood protection for the western communities.

Palm Beach County Water Resource Manager Ken Todd said restoration efforts for the Everglades and related water systems have been highly successful.

SFWMD Executive Director Peter Antonacci said he was grateful to taxpayers for about $1.5 billion that has been spent for Everglades restoration since 1992, including the Loxahatchee refuge.

Antonacci explained that water restoration efforts began in 1988 when the United States sued the State of Florida and the SFWMD alleging water quality violations, including the pollution of the refuge. The case was settled in 1992.

“The result of that was a series of comprehensive meetings with scientists to… figure out what we do about cleansing the water that goes to our Everglades, the remnants here in Palm Beach County and the traditional Everglades farther south in Broward and Miami-Dade,” he said.

It was decided at the time to create stormwater treatment areas to cleanse the water as it flows south.

“I have to tell you that at the time, no one reasonably believed that those water treatment areas were going to work as well as they have,” Antonacci said. “It has been a tremendous success.”

The district and state have purchased more than 50,000 acres of land, mostly in Palm Beach County, to clean the water that goes to the Everglades, he explained.

“We’ve experimented a great deal over the last 20 years on how to operate these enormous water treatment areas that are filled with plant life that cleanse the water as it moves south,” Antonacci said. “The scientists at the South Florida Water Management District have really put shoulder to the wheel the last 10 years to make sure that these stormwater treatment areas work the way they’re supposed to.”

The cleansing process is very complex, he said.

“Each stormwater treatment area is broken into cells, [and the] cells have different plants in them,” Antonacci said. “The water is allowed to flow through there at different times of the year at different rates at different heights, and all this is done with the kind of precision that you would be proud of. The report is sunny; it’s beyond the expectations of anyone in 1992. Twenty-four years later, we have a success story to tell.”

SFWMD engineer Stuart Van Horn said numerous projects are underway to improve water quality. There are six stormwater treatment areas (STAs), primarily in Palm Beach County.

“There are multiple mandates associated with tracking how the program is working,” Van Horn said, including controls on the amount of phosphorus that can be released from agricultural areas, as well as limits on its release from the STAs.

The state water quality standard is 10 parts per billion, he said, explaining that one part per billion is equivalent to one drop of phosphorus in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Best management practices through source control in the Everglades Agricultural Area have removed more than 3,000 metric tons of phosphorus.

“That phosphorus would have gone to the Everglades [but] has now been taken out through the application of those source control programs,” Van Horn said. “There is a mandate to achieve a 25 percent reduction based on a historic baseline, and the EAA has been achieving more than 50 percent.”

The original design goal for the STAs was 50 parts per billion in their outflow, and in 2012, the metric was lowered to 13 parts per billion.

Through state-mandated water management programs, the SFWMD plans to develop more STAs and water storage reservoirs to improve timing and distribution of runoff coming from the agricultural areas to enhance the performance.

Van Horn said that each STA has to reach 13 parts per billion by 2024 and, averaged together, they are releasing about 20 parts per billion. Historically, the phosphorus release ranged from 100 to 300 parts per billion.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in that respect, and we are getting a lot closer to that 13 parts per billion,” he said. “Currently, we have about 57,000 acres in STAs. By 2024, we’ll be up to 64,000 acres, and we’ll also have 116,000 acre-feet of storage in three flow equalization basins.”

He said that the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, once overloaded with phosphorus, has been significantly reduced over the past five years to about 10 parts per billion through use of the STAs, although there is still a concentration of about 90 parts per billion at the north end of the refuge that does not receive the benefit of the STAs.

Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay asked whether there were counts on water coming in from north of Lake Okeechobee, and Van Horn said that the concentrations are high at the watersheds just north of the lake, 300 to 400 parts per billion, and around 90 parts per billion farther north in the Kissimmee watershed. About 95 percent of the water coming into Lake Okeechobee is from the north.

Antonacci said a tremendous amount of phosphorus comes to the lake from the north. “We have our work cut out for us up north,” he said.

Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick asked about the status of the refuge over the lygodium fern invading tree islands and a dispute with the Department of the Interior, which has been administering the refuge, although it is owned by SFWMD.

“We met, and the Department of the Interior said all the right things, but they didn’t do the right things. They did not ask Congress for the money to correct the problem,” Antonacci said.

Out of desperation, the SFWMD board formally notified the Department of the Interior that it was in violation for its failure to control lygodium.

“No one wants to bring about a collision course between governments, but the board felt like they needed to do something,” Antonacci said.

Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management Director Rob Robbins credited Todd with bringing together diverse interests to support the water plan.

“Today, that is really our takeaway message,” said Robbins, who congratulated the SFWMD on its success in reducing nutrient levels.

He explained that the drainage system is very old, created in the 1940s with the objective to drain the land rather than retain water.

“It brings a lot of water into the Lake Worth Lagoon where it doesn’t need to be, where it’s harmful,” Robbins said. “At the same time, we do not have enough freshwater getting up to the Loxahatchee River system. Everyone agrees that we should take freshwater where it’s harmful to where we do not have enough freshwater.”

Robbins said that the natural areas in the northwestern part of the county have abundant freshwater, including the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area, where a tentative plan calls for routing its water through the Mecca property, the C-18 Canal and the Loxahatchee Slough to the Loxahatchee River system.

Another option involves routing water from the C-51 Reservoir through the M Canal into the Grassy Waters Preserve and up to the Loxahatchee Slough.

Robbins noted that Indian Trail Improvement District Engineer Jay Foy was to make a presentation on water projects in the area but could not attend.

“Jay Foy represents a lot of folks who have a compromised drainage system,” Robbins said. “It doesn’t work well when it rains hard. He wants a big bucket of storage when it’s raining very hard.”

Loxahatchee River District Executive Director Albrey Arrington said that he and eight other stakeholders in the local-option plan support it because it makes sense and stores water for times of drought.

“We’re bringing forward all holding hands saying we believe this is a sound, logical project,” Arrington said. “It addresses water timing, storage and the right water quantity, although there are water quality benefits.”

He said the L-8 Reservoir, which sits alongside the C-51 Reservoir, had been intended to provide water to the Loxahatchee Slough but was repurposed through state-level decisions to benefit the Everglades.

“We understand that,” he said. “I’m disheartened. They said in trade, we’ll give you Mecca. That’s a bad trade, but I don’t have that many cards to play.”

Arrington said the C-51 Reservoir project could easily be called the L-8 expansion.

“They literally are neighbors, and if they added a culvert or broke a segment of a berm, they would be intimately connected,” he said, explaining that, like the L-8 Reservoir, it is a deepwater reservoir with large storage capacity.

“If I represented people in western Palm Beach County, that’s a hugely good thing,” he said. “C-51 provides flood protection benefit to The Acreage.”

He said the C-51 Reservoir will definitively restore flow to the Loxahatchee River, and significantly increase the amount of potable water available.

“The C-51, the locally preferred option, will significantly restore the wellfields of many of the coastal areas, alleviating saltwater intrusion and other problems,” Arrington said.

Todd said the C-51 Reservoir pilot project is a new program through Florida Senate Bill 552, called the “water bill,” seeking state financing of up to 50 percent of project costs, and would be at the sole discretion of the SFWMD, although the board has not yet voted on it.

The project includes provisions to provide water to Broward County, which will be paid for by water utility companies there.

McKinlay made a motion to write a letter to the Florida Legislature in support of Phase 1 of the C-51 Pilot Project, which carried 6-0 with Commissioner Hal Valeche absent.


  1. Is SFWM responsible for clear cutting of native cypress and sabal palm trees along the C-51 canal along Southern Blvd?

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