ITID Officials Discuss Flooding Concerns With Congressman Mast

Mast with ITID staff working at the pumphouse.

Congressman Brian Mast (R-District 18) visited the Indian Trail Improvement District on Monday, Sept. 24 to tour the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area levee at the invitation of district officials, who seek funding to complete the half-finished levee and pursue other flood-control plans in The Acreage.

The state funded about $4 million for the first half of the levee, following problems with the dike after the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Isaac in 2012, but funding for the second half never came.

Mast sits on a committee charged with infrastructure, which is important to help address flooding problems, and he came to listen to ITID’s presentation.

“The first thing we’re going to talk about is funding for the second half of the Corbett levee,” ITID Engineer Jay Foy said. “Half a levee doesn’t do much good. The first half is now sound. It was designed and constructed through the [South Florida] Water Management District.”

Foy explained that the original levee is actually an earthen berm that could still breach and cause severe flooding to homes in The Acreage.

He said that the SFWMD recently upped the estimated cost to $5.8 million to finish the levee because construction costs have gone up.

Foy added that the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has been maintaining the water level higher in recent years for the 60,000-acre Corbett area.

“They’re trying to hold their water levels higher to enhance wetlands rather than game harvesting,” he said, explaining that Corbett’s water levels are often at 22 feet. “Our control down here is 16 [feet] in the wet season, so there have been numerous breaches through seepage through the berm. In the new section, that doesn’t happen. It’s very well engineered.”

ITID Manager Rob Robinson said that during Tropical Storm Isaac, the level in Corbett rose to 30 feet. “We had breaching coming in from Corbett in several locations,” he said.

While homes weren’t damaged, there was damage to roadways and septic systems.

“There is only 5 feet of water level differential that is allowed,” Robinson said. “If we drop our canals too low, it allows water to seep through the unimproved berm. When that happens, there could be catastrophic issues.”

Foy added that the district has applied for grants, but some of them have expired because ITID was unable to match the funds.

“We went to the state and lobbied for additional funding,” Robinson said. “We had asked for $1.2 million, but that got cut down to $800,000,” Robinson said. “We did have Sen. [Bobby] Powell sponsor it on both sides, but that was whittled down to $250,000, but then the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas [school shooting] happened.”

The state did appropriate $500,000 more after the first half of the levee was done, which is being held by the SFWMD, Foy said. He noted that ITID is limited to one-quarter-inch of discharge until the water level in the C-51 Canal gets too high, then they have to shut down discharge. An additional vulnerability is that most residents are on wells and septic tanks. The septic tanks can pollute the wells during flooding, which becomes a health and safety issue.

Robinson said flooding may be mitigated by developer GL Homes’ donation of 640 acres to be used for water retention, but it will cost the district to adapt the land for water retention. “We have a time frame of two to four years to get that online,” he said, adding that excavating the impoundment will also give the district additional fill to raise the roads.

Foy said that ITID can manage up to 6 inches of rain unless the Corbett berm breaches; then it becomes unmanageable.

Meanwhile, ITID is participating in a pilot project to rehydrate the water-starved Moss property, which is now part of the Corbett land but is cut off by a drainage canal and depends solely on rainfall for hydration.

Foy added that the L-8 plan, which was originally intended to replenish freshwater flow for the Loxahatchee River and get rid of ITID stormwater now serves as a regulatory reservoir to control water levels in the stormwater treatment areas on the north end of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project.

“There’s federal interest, there’s state interest, there’s local interest in having L-8 work,” Foy said. “Right now, we don’t have a plan.”

Foy said that ITID can provide benefits to the overall water system if it can get the money to implement the plans it has in coordination with other agencies.

“There’s the 640 acres, we can still pump into the impoundment, we can make a connection to the 640,” he said. “We can hold that water, we can discharge it through the L-8 when they can take it, or we can discharge it through the C-51 when it can take it.”

Foy added that discharge to the C-51 Canal has become problematic in that the SFWMD is trying to reduce freshwater discharge to the Lake Worth Lagoon.

“This was all part of the North County Plan,” Foy said. “Part of this suit was settled by repurposing the L-8, so now we have to come up with a new plan. Through this 640 acres, we could help address that plan.”

After hearing the presentation, Mast noted that he sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is important in helping to address flooding problems.

“I sit on that committee because that is where I asked to be, because that’s the best committee to go out and help in exact situations like this,” he said. “This is something that I think, as I go back to Washington, we’ll bring in front of my staff and we’ll start seeing what we can do to look at a federal match. There has been $4 million, roughly, committed by the state government, and we’ll see what can be done at the federal level, not just for infrastructure, but also as it relates to operational costs… and any unanticipated costs.”

Mast, who is in the midst of a closely watched reelection campaign, explained that the presentation was not the first he had heard about flooding in Acreage/Loxahatchee area, but he appreciated having a large map of the area in front of him to get a better understanding of the situation.

“To hear about the amount of wells, the amount of septic tanks, the amount of homes, the amount of residents, we can actually put the metrics to it,” he said. “That’s really helpful for anybody to hear, and actually be able to see it and actually get out on the ground and take a look at it.”