County OKs Study For Creating Deep-Water Reservoir At Mecca

The Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday, July 2 approved a consultant study to evaluate the Mecca Farms site north of The Acreage as a potential reservoir or flow way as part of the Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration Project.

In April, the commissioners directed staff to continue the project, but to reconsider the use of the Mecca Farms property as an above-ground impoundment, citing concerns about possible flooding if a breach should occur, as well as public sentiment about aesthetics of an above-ground reservoir.

The project is intended to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water flow to the northwest fork of the Loxahatchee River and restore hydrological conditions and connectivity of wetlands and watersheds that form the historic headwaters of the river. The study approved on Tuesday authorizes Kimley-Horn and Associates to perform an assessment of a deep storage reservoir proposed for the Mecca site at a cost of $199,956.

At a commission workshop on April 30, county staff reported on the proposed Loxahatchee River project being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and after hearing numerous public comments and commission discussion about the deep-water storage at the Mecca site, the commissioners directed staff to communicate key concerns and expressed interest in collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, which owns the site, to reconsider the Mecca reservoir to be more compatible with adjacent lands.

The commissioners also supported staff’s desire for the county to be in a stronger leadership position with regard to the development of locally preferred water resource projects and supported staff’s recommendation to hire technical consultants in an effort to optimize or improve the Loxahatchee River project.

This evaluation will identify and assess additional alternatives and provide technical information necessary to enable continued collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the SFWMD, and provide tools that can be used for future county water resources planning and management activities in the region.

Key features of the proposed project include a reservoir on the Mecca site, four aquifer storage and recovery wells, and improved connections between the river and the watershed. The project would achieve river restoration flow targets 91 percent of the time in the dry season and 98 percent of the time in wet season.

The estimated cost is $473 million, and design and construction are estimated to require 9 to 15 years. Staff recommended continuing to support state and federal efforts to achieve ecosystem restoration goals for the Loxahatchee River watershed.

The Loxahatchee River restoration project was once part of the enormous L8 Reservoir project, which was repurposed in 2012 by the SFWMD to help control stormwater runoff to the stormwater treatment areas at the north end of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Part of the new proposed plan includes directing some of the excess stormwater from the Indian Trail Improvement District northward to the Loxahatchee Slough.

At the April meeting, several people expressed a preference for a deep-water reservoir or a flow way, rather than an above-ground reservoir, citing better aesthetics and compatibility with surrounding areas.

The study was approved on the consent agenda without comment.