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Guest Commentary: Deep injection wells: Replacing one wasteful water management practice with another

October 4, 2018
By Nicole Johnson , Lehigh Acres Citizen

At the South Florida Water Management District's recent governing board meeting, the district promoted a new idea for dealing with the water quality woes stemming from the mass discharges of polluted water down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. This proposal would pump water during high-flow events 3,000 feet underground using Deep Injection Wells (DIWs), or as the District has recently rebranded them, "emergency estuary protection wells".

There are a number of problems with this idea. First and foremost, it only looks at one half of the water management equation.

First, the Caloosahatchee River and estuary oscillates back and forth between extreme low flows and extreme high flows, and both are tremendously damaging. During the first half of 2018, the Caloosahatchee experienced a Minimum Flow and Level (MFL) exceedance meaning the estuary wasn't getting enough freshwater before the high rainfall events in May, followed by the discharges that started in June.

We should all be focusing on solutions that address the needs of the entire system and recognize that throwing water away during excess times sets us up for extreme drought and low-flow conditions in the future.

Recently, drought conditions have occurred more often than not, and pursuing any plan that would permanently remove freshwater from the system is not an appropriate way to expend taxpayer dollars or agency resources. In fact, the comprehensive report on Florida's water future entitled "Water 2070," prepared by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 1000 Friends of Florida and the GeoPlan Center at the University of Florida, clearly indicates that Florida is on an unsustainable path for water supply. Florida needs all of its freshwater if we are to support a growing population, agricultural needs, and water for the natural system, including the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades.

Regardless of whether DIWs are being contemplated as a temporary strategy for emergency situations, this is merely substituting one wasteful water management practice (losing water to tide down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie) with another losing the water by injecting it into the Boulder Zone.

This is not a quick or cheap proposal to implement either. The capacity of the Boulder Zone is not understood, so test wells will need to be drilled and full implementation is estimated at approximately seven years at a cost of approximately $300 million.

So instead of wasting our most valuable resource, at taxpayer expense, by injecting it underground, let's concentrate on maximizing surface storage throughout our watersheds and fund and expedite Everglades Restoration projects with demonstrated ecological benefits. These projects will provide hydrologic restoration, cleanse the water, and reduce the damaging high-volume discharges to the estuaries, including the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir and the Central Everglades Project.

No matter how the South Florida Water Management District "rebrands" it, deep injection wells are not in the best interests of the state of Florida and its residents, today or in the future.

-Nicole Johnson, Conservancy of Southwest Florida director of Environmental Policy. To learn more about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida's work visit www.conservancy.org.

 
 

 

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