A trickle of promise for the St. Lucie River estuary, today water began flooding cell two of the six cells of the C-44 Reservoir Stormwater Treatment Area (STA).
The combination of a 3,600-acre reservoir and associated STA between Lake Okeechobee and Stuart, Florida was envisioned 15 years ago as a means of retaining and filtering runoff destined for the St. Lucie.
Alan Shirkey, Bureau Chief with the South Florida Water Management District, says that within two years (2021) the fully functioning project will treat up to 65 percent of the water coming from the local east Lake Okeechobee watershed, primary contributor of water into C-44, the Okeechobee Waterway (St. Lucie River).
The four pumps in the completed pump house are powered by four 1,700 HP engines, built exactly for the job at hand, moving 1,100 cubic feet of water per second (CFS) from the intake canals through 78-inch pipes, into the reservoir, which can ultimately hold 54,000 acre-feet of water. The reservoir is 2 ½ miles from north to south and 1 ½ miles across from east to west.
The design work may have started in 2004 but construction on the STA didn’t begin until 2014 with the reservoir getting underway a year later in 2015. There are 30 miles of levees and 28 miles of canals. The average canal depth will be 12 to 13 feet.
The takeaway from the ceremonial flooding of a single cell of the STA is this could be, and should be, very helpful for cleaning local water runoff.
In the bigger scheme of things, however, downstream estuary health will depend on the gates on Lake Okeechobee, S-308, staying closed. In wet years, Okeechobee releases represent by far the greatest threat to watersheds, upsetting salinity levels in the St. Lucie and Indian River estuaries and delivering slugs of toxic algae through residential and recreation areas. Keeping those gates closed could take more work–no actual land-moving or pump-building, but arm-wrangling and law-making work. Operational change to keep the lake level low at the beginning of the wet season, in concert the C-44 project and other local initiatives, will turn a trickle of promise into a flood of optimism.