“The largest and most expensive ecosystem restoration project on the planet is underway right in our backyard!” That’s right – you have probably seen this sentence from another article on this website from Dr. Nick Aumen! We’re talking about Everglades Restoration and what that may mean for the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. A decade ago, a huge interagency effort resulted in identifying restoration alternatives and informing Congress of the need for a $12 billion fix to problems within the Everglades. A total of 68 projects, sorted into 7 different groups of projects, were designed to “get the water right” in the hopes that once the water was fixed, the ecosystem would be fixed as well. There are several aspects of this restoration plan that were directly relevant to the Refuge.
The Acme Basin B project focused on polluted stormwater runoff from a portion of the Village of Wellington that was being pumped into the Refuge. Wellington – well known as the location of many equestrian events – used to send water directly into the Refuge without any cleanup of its nutrient -enriched waters. A federal court ruling required that this problem be corrected by December 31, 2006.
The average amount of water entering the Refuge from Wellington each year wasn’t trivial – picture a single football field stacked with water about 5.5 miles high – and it just wasn’t clean enough. The Acme Basin B project focused specifically on how to solve this problem.
After years of planning, a large inter-agency group decided to redirect the water to a constructed treatment wetland called Stormwater Treatment Area 1 East first to get cleaned. Now, there is no longer a high-nutrient source of water directly to the Refuge from the Village of Wellington. The inputs of water to that treatment wetland have increased 24% above the original design, so when inputs are greater than the capacity of the treatment wetland, that water is diverted to the Lake Worth Lagoon.
Refuge staff have worked with the South Florida Water Management District to help determine the optimum way to operate the treatment wetland. The Fran Reich Preserve project (formerly called the Site 1 Project), located outside the southeast corner of the Refuge, is a combination of an above-ground water storage reservoir (think of a huge swimming pool) and water storage wells, called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells. The plan is to pump extra rainy-season water that would have been sent to the ocean (and thus lost!) into the reservoir and then into the wells. In the dry season, this stored water is available to meet water supply needs.
This supply will reduce the need to take water from the Refuge in the dry season for water supply. Use of ASR wells for water supply has been used around the world; however, there still is uncertainty concerning benefits of ASR wells for environmental restoration. This project is under development, so it will be a few more years before it will benefit water users and the Refuge.
Since 2000, Refuge staff have helped plan these, and other, restoration projects. Our goal is to work with our partners on meeting flood protection and water supply needs while achieving the overarching goals of protecting and restoring the valued ecosystems of the Refuge and the Everglades.
hope that this information helps you to better understand the hard work that is being done by Refuge and Everglades National Park staff to protect America's Everglades and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.