Saturday, June 22

C-44 reservoir hampered by seepage nearly 3 years after pumps turned on

The C-44 reservoir in western Martin County opened in November 2021 to great fanfare.

Nearly two-and-half years later, the $340 million project is still not fully operational because of seepage.

Eve Samples, the executive director of Friends of the Everglades, shared her thoughts on the project.

“I fully understand and respect that these are extremely difficult projects to build massive reservoirs,” Samples said. “The Army Corps of Engineers, in cases like this, is building projects that have never been built in the country, perhaps in the world.”

Col. James Booth, the Army Corps district commander, said work is underway on a design to fix the seepage in spots surrounding the reservoir that he described as largely a “maintenance issue.”

“The issue with the seepage we are seeing right now is not a dam and levee issue,” Booth said. “There’s no problem whatsoever with the embankment or the dam. We have full confidence in its capability to perform right now.”

The 3,400-acre reservoir was designed to hold water to a depth of 15 feet. That is more than 16 billion gallons worth of local basin runoff.

For now, the reservoir depth is kept to no more than 10 feet because of seepage issues.

Booth targeted 2026 for the expected completion of relief wells to stop the seepage. He offered no price tag for the fix.

The Army Corps commander also noted that the reservoir may not be fully operational but is working. Water in the reservoir is moved to adjacent stormwater treatment marshes, where algae-producing phosphorus and nitrogen from farm, ranch and other human activity is filtered out before it heads into the St. Lucie Estuary.

“The STA (stormwater treatment area) is cleaning that water, and we are flowing that back out in the canal in a much cleaner condition than it came in,” Booth said. “Folks should trust in the process. We knew we needed to look for it (seepage). … We found an area, and we’re going to fix it.”

All of this serves as a backdrop for the far larger $4 billion reservoir project to be built south of Lake Okeechobee with a hope for completion by 2030.

It is a key component to the decades-long promise to send marsh-cleaned water south into the parched Everglades, while at the same time stopping, or greatly reducing, harmful discharges to the east.

Samples offered a cautionary note and another vision for helping to achieve all those goals.

“It reminds us that wherever we can in Everglades restoration we should embrace projects that work with nature, not against Mother Nature,” Samples said. “Tall, deep reservoirs can be really challenging and problematic, and where we have man-made marshes that can do a better job cleaning water and pose less engineering challenges, we should embrace that and think about that.”

Samples added that communities cannot just wait on massive projects to be finished.

“Friends of the Everglades, to us that means the need for more public land south of Lake Okeechobee to build more of these treatment marshes, which we know are effective,” Samples said. “They are a shining example in the world of how to clean water and restore wetlands.”

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