Florida DEP Adopts Lake Okeechobee Restoration Plan

Category: press release

 Jan 27th, 2015 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Jan 27th, 2015 at 12:00 AM

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has formally adopted an aggressive 10-year restoration plan, known as a basin management action plan or BMAP, covering Lake Okeechobee. The long-term restoration plan was carefully developed through a series of public meetings that included environmental groups, agricultural interests, local governments as well as the public. The plan identifies a set of strategies and projects to reduce nutrient pollution to the lake that represents more than a $750 million investment and nearly 33-percent reduction in total phosphorous entering Lake Okeechobee over the next 10 years.

Governor Rick Scott said, “I am proud DEP continues to collaboratively work with all stakeholders to protect the quality of Florida’s water. The creation of this restoration plan builds on the success of our $880 million plan to protect the quality of water flowing into the Everglades. Restoring the waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Northern Everglades is a key step in preserving the greater Everglades Ecosystem for generations to come.”

“Achieving the reductions required to restore Lake Okeechobee is a monumental task; and this restoration plan represents a significant first step toward achieving that goal,” said DEP Interim Secretary Cliff Wilson. “We applaud the investments and commitment of all of the stakeholders in the basin and we are committed to continuing to work together to further refine the restoration plan until we achieve our goal.”

Over the last two years, with the support of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, DEP has conducted more than 10 public meetings to develop the final restoration plan. The BMAP identifies a variety of project types to relieve the lake of large influxes of nutrient-rich water, including dispersed water storage, nutrient reduction practices for urban and agricultural areas, and a number of cost-share projects using state financial assistance to accelerate restoration.

“DEP’s BMAP effort delivers an important tool for the long-term restoration of Lake Okeechobee,” said SFWMD Assistant Executive Director Lennart Lindahl. “Based on sound science and extensive public input, this important BMAP will help protect South Florida’s largest inland water body.”

The first five years of the plan cover a range of projects including the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, hybrid wetland treatment areas, dispersed water storage and stormwater treatment areas (STAs). The BMAP also identifies timeframes for the continued planning and development of longer-term projects over the next 10 years.

“Audubon Florida worked closely with DEP on the Lake Okeechobee water quality plan and considers the plan an important step toward meeting state water quality standards,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper. “The plan includes projects that significantly reduce harmful phosphorous entering the lake and requires verification of the effectiveness of pollution control practices. In future iterations Audubon will continue to recommend additional measures to control and treat pollution.”

“We thank the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for its work and leadership on the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for Lake Okeechobee. Cleaning up the lake is a huge undertaking, and the BMAP is a good first step in that effort,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.

Located in the heart of the greater Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem, Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the second-largest freshwater lake within the contiguous United States. It is a valuable, multi-purpose waterbody that provides drinking water for urban areas, irrigation water for agricultural lands, recharge for aquifers and freshwater for the Everglades. With a contributing watershed of approximately 1,800 square miles, larger than the state of Rhode Island, it is vulnerable both to pollution from surrounding land uses and flooding.

More Than $1 Million Committed to Restoration Project for Lake Okeechobee

– DEP and Spring Lake Improvement District continue efforts to improve water quality with stormwater project –

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, together with the Spring Lake Improvement District (SLID), have committed more than $1 million to a stormwater system improvement project that will help reduce pollution reaching Lake Okeechobee. The department’s contribution to the project is $624,000. The project includes the construction of a 70-acre stormwater treatment area including a treatment pond and wetland marsh.

“I would like to thank the Spring Lake Improvement District for their environmental leadership,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “This project is evidence that dedicated communities of any size can leverage their resources to make great strides for Florida’s waters.”

Water that flows off the land and into creeks, streams or rivers after a rain is referred to as stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff typically contains fertilizers, pesticides, oils, grease and other pollutants. Without treatment, stormwater carries these pollutants directly into Florida’s waterbodies. Capturing and retaining runoff from storm events allows for control over the quality and quantity of the stormwater reaching nearby waterbodies. Natural physical, biological and chemical processes work over time to remove pollutants.

“Our very small district has spent close to $4 million over the last seven years on our updated water control plan, and FDEP is the first state or federal agency to actually provide financial assistance,” said Joe DeCerbo, district manager of the Spring Lake Improvement District. “Once they viewed our program they became active participants, and we sincerely appreciate their involvement.”

Currrently, runoff from the residential areas surrounding Arbuckle Creek, including State Route 98 and the Sebring Airport, receives treatment through a system of cascading lakes, ponds and canals. After project construction, stormwater runoff will continue to travel through the lakes before undergoing additional treatment through the marsh and then discharged into Arbuckle Creek through a pumping station. The proposed project should reduce the pollutant load in Arbuckle Creek and consequently positively impact the Kissimmee River, Lake Istokpoga, and ultimately, Lake Okeechobee. A groundbreaking ceremony for the project is planned for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014.

Florida has historically been at the forefront of the nation in addressing stormwater management, as one of the first states to implement a statewide stormwater program. Florida was also one of the first states to address agricultural and urban stormwater management through its water-quality restoration program.

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