Environmental Protection

South Florida District OKs Treatment Wetlands Expansion

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board approved on March 12 an 8,800-acre expansion of treatment wetlands in southeastern Hendry County to further improve water quality flowing into the Florida Everglades. The construction of "Compartment C" will connect two existing Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) in the Everglades Agricultural Area and more than double water treatment capability at the site.

"It is rewarding for the board to give a green light to Everglades construction projects that not only improve the environment but also provide economic stimulus for Florida businesses and the local communities," said Eric Buermann, SFWMD Governing Board chair. "Putting more treatment wetlands in the ground is vital to water quality improvements, and construction of Compartment C means continued progress with environmental restoration in South Florida."

With design and permitting for the $47.5-million project complete, Harry Pepper & Associates can now begin work. The Florida-based firm was selected in a state-regulated bidding process. As part of the contract, certified businesses in the district's Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program will receive 25 percent of the work, totaling more than $12 million. Additionally, 20 percent of the labor as well as 5 percent of sub-contracting dollars will go directly to vendors in western Palm Beach County. Several firms from the Glades area have already been sub-contracted to participate in the multi-year construction effort.

Stormwater Treatment Areas are the water-cleaning workhorses of Everglades restoration, using plants to remove phosphorus from water flowing into the Everglades. Construction of Compartment C expands on earlier projects to build, operate, expand, and enhance six Stormwater Treatment Areas south of Lake Okeechobee. These wetlands are components of the Long-Term Plan for Achieving Water Quality Goals, a legislatively approved blueprint to improve water quality in the Everglades.

Since 1994, the six STAs -- with a combined area of more than 52,000 acres -- have retained more than 1,000 metric tons of total phosphorus that would have otherwise entered the Everglades. Overall, Florida has invested more than $1.8 billion to improve Everglades water quality, making significant and well-documented progress.

Along with construction of Compartment C, the district is renovating Stormwater Treatment Area 5, which is adjacent to the wetland build-out. The renovations are enhancing plant growth and water movement through the treatment marsh. Dry weather in early 2009 presented an opportunity to improve STA-5's bottom contours, which were impacting STA performance. In 32 days, district crews moved nearly 170,000 cubic yards, or 8,500 truckloads, of soil in STA-5, filling deeper areas so that more vegetation can take root and improve the wetland's ability to remove phosphorus from Everglades-bound waters.

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