The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors discussed renewing efforts to increase the amount of its stormwater discharge permit last week.
At the Jan. 16 meeting, ITID Engineer Jay Foy began his presentation showing supervisors an aerial view of the flooding that occurred in the district during Tropical Storm Isaac, where most Acreage-area roads and yards were underwater for two weeks.
“The good news is that homes don’t flood,” Foy said. “The bad news is that the time it takes to get rid of the water, septic tanks and health are an issue. Emergency services are an issue. It’s just not good service for drainage.”
Foy explained that ITID is equipped to discharge about two inches of water per day to its 740-acre impoundment, but once the impoundment is full, it is allowed about a quarter inch per day of discharge to the C-51 Canal, which he said is woefully insufficient and fails to serve the public in the event of a major storm event.
“Our conveyance system and the canals should be down three days after the storm,” Foy said. “We get cut off when the C-51 rises to a certain elevation, within a half-foot of its design.”
Foy said that ITID was once part of the North County Plan, which started in 1990 on a local level and evolved into a federal process, but in 2012, the plan was scrapped in deference to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), but part of it was reinitiated in 2015 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District in an effort to restore the flow of the Loxahatchee River.
“It didn’t include other things the plan had in it, one of which was flood protection,” Foy said. “So, the current plan on the books is to help the Loxahatchee River.”
Foy said CERP does not address a plan for the L-8 Canal, which allows ITID to discharge to the M-1 Canal and subsequently to the C-51 Canal, although it was clearly identified in 1995 that an L-8 plan was needed.
Foy said that in 2004, ITID had negotiated a written agreement with the SFWMD to get one inch per day discharge in its permit, but it was dropped with the abandonment of the North County Plan.
“The L-8 reservoir is a real deep reservoir that’s going to have 45,000 acre-feet — that’s a tremendous amount of water,” Foy said. “That’s what the North County Plan depended on. Without that, the North County Plan doesn’t happen.”
The L-8 reservoir has since been repurposed to control flow to stormwater treatment areas that were created at the north end of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations between the SFWMD, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency decided to settle the Everglades lawsuit, Foy said.
“To meet 10 parts per billion [of phosphorus discharge], they found that they could not feed the water through the stormwater treatment areas at the rate runoff occurred,” Foy said. “You needed a reservoir to store it and feed it through slowly. The L-8 reservoir is such a facility.”
He pointed out that the capacity for the L-8 reservoir still has not been clearly identified in relation to the capacity of the stormwater treatment areas.
“The key concept is that storage is how you prevent flooding,” he said, pointing out that the district must receive five to seven inches of rain before it starts to flood. “Our goal is to have 10 inches.”
Foy reminded supervisors that Tropical Storm Isaac dumped about 17 inches of rain within a few days.
“If we’re restricted to the quarter-inch per day, that’s 40 days and 40 nights of discharge before you get back to the point where you’re full,” Foy said, explaining that the purpose of his presentation is to discuss a memorandum of agreement allowing ITID to increase its daily discharge when necessary.
Foy said that in the early 1970s, the Village of Royal Palm Beach received most of a 2.9-inch allotment to the village and the M-1 basin in ITID through an agreement by developer Herb Kaplan.
“Based on having that design limit, the engineers came up with the plan that you currently have,” Foy said, explaining that in 1996, ITID decided to sue the SFWMD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get back its one-inch-per-day allotment.
Using its five pumps, ITID can discharge 235 cubic feet per second, but when the impoundment gets full, it must shut down all but one pump.
Foy noted that the district has another gate similar to the one on the M-1 Canal at Southern Blvd. that can discharge about 880 cubic feet per second that has been inactivated and is chained shut since the North County Plan was scrapped.
“If you take the 720 [cfs] permitted and take what we can discharge, it comes out to 1,605 cubic feet per second, which would include Royal Palm Beach and us,” Foy said. “The total we can discharge is around two inches per day, but because the L-8 doesn’t have a plan, it’s about 1.6 inches per day… When there aren’t problems, you can discharge a whole bunch of water.”
Foy added that ITID was supposed to get a revised interlocal agreement for its discharge to the C-51 Canal when Stormwater Treatment Area 1E was complete, but the SFWMD has not issued it.
Foy said that the SFWMD has suggested that representatives from both sides meet to hash out its drainage issues.
“I have no problem with that if you direct us to do that,” Foy said. “I would want a supervisor there. If we have that meeting, I think it would be appropriate to make a presentation to the board… You’ve waited 25 years. Do you want to wait for another 25 years? I doubt it, but that’s up to you.”
Other options to pursue include improving drainage through discharge to the Moss property and creating another 640-acre reservoir on land that was donated to ITID by GL Homes. ITID might also work out an agreement with the City of Westlake, which was granted a large amount of stormwater discharge when it was a citrus grove.
“Should we apply for a modification of our permit and ask for more discharge?” Foy said. “They might give us another 100 cfs, or they might recommend denial. If they recommend denial, we might have to go to an administrative hearing.”
ITID President Betty Argue pointed out that the state has a new governor, who might be able to help the district with its drainage issues. Foy suggested that ITID direct its lobbying effort there.
Argue also pointed out that Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for the resignation of the members of the SFWMD board.
“[Rep.] Brian Mast is actually acting as the chair of a committee that is advising the governor,” Argue said. “I think we have an opportunity right now with the new governor coming in. We’ve tried the letter and the more passive approach… but that’s dealing with staff, and maybe we need to take it to a higher level.”
Argue also recommended continuing to pursue drainage at the Moss property and other drainage avenues that Foy had presented.
“I don’t want to ever see another Tropical Storm Isaac-like situation,” Argue said. “I feel like we’re being violated — 25 years of being ignored by the very people who are supposed to be helping us with this problem.”
Foy said there have been positive changes for ITID since Tropical Storm Isaac, including the ability to lower water levels before a storm, a newly constructed bypass and increased discharge allowance, but it still falls short of protecting residents in the event of a severe storm.