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Posted 11/4/2014

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By Jenn Miller
Jacksonville District

When thinking about Florida, one of the first things that may come to mind is often the Everglades. While restoration of this national treasure is a massive endeavor being embarked on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, ecosystem restoration is only a part of the multi-faceted mission of the Jacksonville District.

Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, South Atlantic Division commander, devoted nearly a week learning about the district’s projects and meeting with partnering agency officials and district staff during his visit to Florida Sept. 15-19, 2014.

"The South Atlantic Division has one of the largest and most diverse Civil Works programs in the Corps," said Turner. "The Jacksonville District staff is performing phenomenal work to develop water resources solutions as they solve some of the nation's toughest engineering challenges."

In addition to overseeing the largest ecosystem restoration effort in the world, the Jacksonville District is responsible for the largest shore protection program in the nation and administers the largest regulatory permitting program in the Corps.

“The Jacksonville District’s mission extends beyond ecosystem restoration and we dedicate the same kind of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to each of our mission areas and the projects associated with them,” said Jacksonville District commander Col. Alan Dodd, who accompanied Turner throughout the duration of his visit.  “The projects we build are not only extensive, but bring tremendous environmental and economic value to the nation.”  

A large portion of the Jacksonville District’s mission today is to help ensure Florida ports remain vital in the global marketplace.  It has 17 deep draft ports within its area of responsibility and the largest shore protection program in the nation —constructing more than 30 percent of the nation’s total shore protection projects.

Additionally, the district is working to rehabilitate the massive 143-mile Herbert Hoover Dike, which provides flood damage reduction for local communities and surrounds the second largest freshwater lake in the country, Lake Okeechobee. Since 2007, the Jacksonville District has made a significant investment, over $300 million, in projects designed to reduce the risk of failure of the aging structure.

Lake Okeechobee serves as a source of irrigation for a $1.5 billion-a-year agricultural industry that produces sugar cane, winter vegetables, citrus and rice.  The lake also provides for navigation, recreation, and serves as a source of fresh water for estuaries. 

Not only is the district  working to rehabilitate the massive earthen dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, it is also responsible for managing the water levels of Lake Okeechobee.  The lake is managed in accordance with the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, which was developed through a rigorous public involvement process and attempts to balance the water needs of many competing interests.

Lake Okeechobee is the heart of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system.  Before south Florida was settled, the lake’s water levels were controlled by natural conditions such as rainfall, runoff from the Kissimmee River, evaporation, and outflows south into the Everglades. As the population of south Florida grew and agricultural communities began to thrive, the State of Florida and private entities constructed an array of projects to control the lake’s elevation.

As a result of the engineering performed as early as the 1880s to make south Florida more inhabitable, the natural flow of water to, and through, the Everglades was severely altered. The construction of roads, canals, and levees created barriers that now interrupt the natural flow of water that’s necessary for the Everglades to survive.

The goal of Everglades restoration is to get the right quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water to the Everglades in order to protect, preserve, and restore the ecosystem while meeting other needs such as water supply and flood control. The district’s Everglades restoration program is the Corps' single largest ecosystem restoration effort and is being performed in partnership with state and federal agencies.

From flood damage reduction to navigation to ecosystem restoration, the work being performed by the Jacksonville District is not only unique in nature, but also has to take into account many factors when planning and implementing projects.  Through collaborative efforts with federal, state and local agencies, progress continues to be made in ensuring that the projects being built today contribute to a healthy and sustainable environment for future generations.