The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Jacksonville District received a signed Record of Decision for the Everglades Restoration Transition Plan (ERTP) Oct. 19. The Record of Decision, signed by Col. Donald E. Jackson Jr., South Atlantic Division commander, provides the authority for ERTP to replace the current Interim Operational Plan for Protection of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow (IOP), modifying current water management operations of the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) project in the area.
“The IOP is no longer a viable option due to the condition of endangered species within Water Conservation Area 3A,” said Donna George, project manager.
Water Conservation Area 3, also referred to as WCA-3, is the largest of the three water conservation areas located in south Florida, covering 915 square miles in western Broward and Dade counties. It is the only water conservation area not entirely enclosed by levees and is separated into WCA-3A and WCA-3B by the L-67A Canal, which runs southwestward from the eastern boundary toward Everglades National Park.
The purpose of the ERTP is to define water management operating criteria for the C&SF project features located in south Florida, including portions of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and adjacent areas. It includes water management operating criteria for the currently constructed features of the Modified Water Deliveries (MWD) and Canal 111 South Dade (C-111) projects, congressionally authorized projects that will restore natural water flows and ecological viability to Everglades National Park.
ERTP will change the WCA-3A Regulation Schedule, including the lowering of the uppermost zone (Zone A) from 9.5 to 10.5 feet NGVD; eliminating Zones B and C; and extending Zones D and E1 to provide additional operational flexibility.
Lowering of water levels in WCA-3A will provide direct benefits to tree islands, marsh vegetation and the Everglade snail kite by reducing prolonged inundation and high water depths until modifications to increase the outlet capacity of WCA-3 associated with Everglades restoration plans can be implemented. ERTP provides greater flexibility within the existing system to store and release water in WCA‑3A to accommodate multi-species needs through operational capability, application of performance measures, and assessment of observed hydrologic/ecological conditions.
“ERTP represents a transition from single to multi-species management,” said Gina Ralph, supervisory biologist. “Its objectives include improving conditions in Water Conservation Area 3A for the endangered Everglade Snail Kite, Wood Stork and wading bird species and their habitat, while maintaining protection for the endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow and congressionally authorized purposes of the C&SF project.”
Under ERTP there will be no seasonal closure criteria for S-12C, one of the primary discharge outlets for WCA-3A. This will allow for an increase in the dry season flows into the Northeast part of Everglades National Park.
Additionally, Periodic Scientists Calls will be conducted to provide a forum for agencies and tribes to provide information to be considered in the Corps’ decision making process and enable real-time water management decisions to provide benefits to multiple species within WCA-3A. Calls will occur on an as-needed basis with the interval between calls determined based upon ongoing or anticipated conditions within the WCAs, the South Dade Conveyance System, and/or ENP. Regularly scheduled Periodic Scientists Calls in January, May and October will be used to obtain information on long-term (annual and/or seasonal) conditions in WCA-3 and/or ENP.
“ERTP incorporates more flexible operating criteria to better manage Water Conservation Area 3A for the benefit of multiple species,” said George. “It represents a positive step towards balancing the competing needs of a complex system.”
For additional information on ERTP, visit the ERTP project page.