The South Florida Water Management District is allowing 10,000 gallons of clean water per second to flow out of a water catchment area west of Broward and Miami-Dade counties to help save wildlife from drowning.
Gov. Rick Scott asked that the water be released into the Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park last week, but the request needed federal approval.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the request Monday because of the emergency situation, which includes the threat of deer drowning in the so-called Water Catchment area 3.
“WCA-3 is a foot above its regulation schedule,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander for the corps. “This action will allow us to get more water out of the conservation area and lower the water level.”
The Everglades Foundation supports the plan.
Last month was the wettest January on record for the 16-county region managed by the South Florida Water Management District.
More than 9 inches of rain fell districtwide, which is about 7 inches more than normal.
December’s rains were about 2 inches above normal districtwide but much higher in some areas, including coastal Palm Beach County, which received nearly 7 inches of rain — 3.73 inches higher than normal.
“The system is oversaturated with water,” said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. “I was out in the Sawgrass recreational area yesterday near Weston, and the sawgrass was covered. It looked like a lake. There were hardly any wading birds.”
John Campbell, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers JacksonvilleDistrict, said in theory, releasing water into Everglades National Park would free up space in the water catchment area, which could then take water out of Lake Okeechobee.
That could help slow the releases out of the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
Businesses and elected officials on both sides of the state say the billions of gallons a day being released from the lake are hurting their economies and local wildlife that thrives in the brackish water of the estuaries.
On Monday, the lake stood at 16.19 feet above sea level. That’s higher than the comfort level of between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet.