From transferring the first completed Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) project to resolving long-standing policy issues that will enable restoration projects to move forward, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has performed some heavy lifting this year to keep Everglades restoration progress moving forward.
Getting projects built
The official transfer of the Melaleuca Eradication and Other Exotic Plants Research Annex in Davie, Florida, occurred Jan. 10 when the Corps received the signed transfer letter from local sponsor, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). This not only signified the completion and transfer of the project, which will serve as a new facility to raise insects used as a biocontrol measure to manage invasive plants, but also signified the first CERP project to be completed.
“The successful transfer of this project demonstrates the Corps of Engineers’ commitment to getting projects not only constructed, but also officially turned over to our local sponsors after completion,” said Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alan Dodd. “We have a lot of projects in the works, and we will continue to push forward in our project execution and completion goals.”
Construction momentum was strong in 2014 with progress being made on numerous CERP projects, including the Indian River Lagoon-South’s C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area. In July, construction was completed on the Corps’ first construction contract.
Construction began on the contract in 2011 and consisted of constructing approximately seven miles of canals, access roads, staging areas, and other pieces of infrastructure needed to move forward with the larger components of the project, such as the 3,400-acre reservoir the Corps is scheduled to award the construction contract for this summer.
"Completion of this construction contract is an important step forward for the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area project," said Dodd. "We now have the foundation in place to begin constructing the larger components of the project, which when completed, will be extremely beneficial to the St. Lucie Estuary, Indian River Lagoon and our Everglades restoration program as a whole."
Construction progress wasn’t just made on the east coast of Florida, but on the west coast as well. In October, the Corps celebrated the completion of the Picayune Strand Restoration project’s Merritt Pump Station – the first CERP construction contract to break ground. The Merritt Pump Station is a key piece of infrastructure for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project that will aid in the restoration of more than 55,000 acres of natural habitat.
"When the Corps of Engineers awarded the Merritt Pump Station construction contract in 2009, it not only marked the start of a massive restoration project here in Collier County, but it signaled the value of the important partnership we have with the South Florida Water Management District and the State of Florida," said Dodd. "The completion of the Merritt Pump Station is a clear demonstration of this partnership at work, and it’s precisely this type of partnership that will further the goals and objectives envisioned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan [CERP] over the coming years.”
Through partnerships with state and local governments, the Corps has been able to work collaboratively to overcome some significant hurdles this past year that will enable Everglades restoration projects to move forward, not only in the short-term, but for years to come.
In April, Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, announced policy guidance to the Corps that has enabled the C-111 South Dade and Kissimmee River Restoration (KRR) projects to move towards completion.
"We are encouraged by these advancements with our partner, the South Florida Water Management District. Together we have found solutions to ensure that these critical projects get to completion. We need to keep up the momentum of projects' construction in order to move the water south and improve the health of the entire Everglades ecosystem," Darcy stated.
As a result, the Corps and the South Florida Water Management District were able to amend the existing Project Cooperation Agreement for the C-111 South Dade project and are now working on the required documents to award one of the project’s remaining two construction contracts. The C-111 South Dade project is designed to create a seepage barrier that will help keep the additional water, provided by the Modified Water Deliveries project, in Everglades National Park.
For the Kissimmee River Restoration project, the agreement means the Corps will now initiate construction contracts for the final legs of the backfilling and restoration efforts. To date, the Corps has completed 25 construction contracts as part of the KRR project and has restored 11 miles of the historic river channel. Currently, two construction contracts are ongoing with another construction contract scheduled to be awarded this February.
Monitoring restoration efforts
In coordination with the South Florida Water Management District, the Jacksonville District released the fifth edition of a comprehensive report evaluating monitoring data in the Everglades ecosystem.
The report, known as the 2014 System Status Report (SSR) was released for public comment in March and the final report was completed in August. This multi-agency report evaluates current monitoring data from different geographic regions within the Everglades ecosystem to determine if the goals and objectives of CERP are being met. The SSR incorporates data collected by the Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) Monitoring and Assessment Plan (MAP) program for CERP, data from CERP projects, and data provided by RECOVER partners.
In addition to assisting decision-makers with the timing of planning and implementation of CERP features, the 2014 System Status Report will also provide input into the 2015 Report to Congress, required by the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. Produced every five years, the intent of the Report to Congress is to inform the highest levels of the U.S. government on the progress made toward the goals and objectives of CERP.
Preparing for future construction efforts
Eight Jacksonville District projects that will provide critical infrastructure to local ports and ecosystem restoration efforts in Florida received approval as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, which was signed into law in June. Four navigation projects and four Everglades restoration projects were included in the bill that, in total, authorized 34 Corps projects across the nation.
The four Everglades restoration projects that received authorization were the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, Broward County Water preserve Areas, C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and the C-111 Spreader Canal Western projects.
“Receiving authorization for these projects demonstrates the valuable work we’re doing here in Florida and the quality work the Jacksonville District continues to deliver,” said Dodd. “Congressional authorization is the first step. It now makes these projects eligible for funding during the appropriations process. After receiving appropriations, we can then finalize designs, partnership agreements and contract actions that will enable us to start construction.”
A project's inclusion in WRRDA does not guarantee funding in the appropriations process. Still, getting a project into an authorization measure is a necessary first step to acquire funding in a later spending bill. With these eight projects authorized, they now move one step closer towards implementation and open up the queue for additional projects, such as the Central Everglades Planning Project, to receive authorization in a future WRRDA bill.
Planning projects for the future
On Dec. 23, the Chief of Engineer’s Report, or Chief’s Report, for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) was signed by Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, USACE Commander and Chief of Engineers. It is the culmination of a three-year planning effort involving the Jacksonville District, South Florida Water Management District and other representatives from all levels of government, stakeholder groups, and the public at large.
“This is a wonderful holiday present for everyone who has worked hard on this project,” said Dodd. “We set some very aggressive goals to produce a timely report on a project so large. I’m so proud of everyone who was involved in the effort.”
CEPP combines several CERP components and is designed to capture water that is currently being lost to tide and direct additional flows to the Everglades and Florida Bay. The projects optimize the use of public lands to move additional water to the south.
The Corps prepared the CEPP planning document using a pilot process designed to reduce the overall time allocated for a study of this magnitude. In prior years, plan formulation and review may have taken six years or longer. The CEPP process was complete in half that time.
“The CEPP process is an excellent example of how the Corps is executing transformation in its civil works processes” said Dodd. “We are making the planning process more modern and relevant, enhancing our budgeting capability, and improving our methods of delivery.”
The CEPP report will undergo additional review by the Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and the Office of Management & Budget. It will be formally transmitted to Congress upon completion of those reviews. Corps crossed the finish line with delivering the final report for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). The project, which initiated in 2011, is a pilot project aimed at streamlining the Corps’ planning process.
Additionally, planning efforts have begun on the Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration project. The Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration Project aims to restore and sustain the overall quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of freshwaters to the federally designated “National Wild and Scenic” Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River for current and future generations. This project also seeks to restore, sustain, and reconnect the area’s wetlands and watersheds that form the historic headwaters for the river.
Planning efforts for the Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration project were put on hold in 2011 and have now been restarted. The project team is in the process of re-scoping the project. Existing plan formulation data and analysis will be used in the development of a final plan, known as a Project Implementation Report and Environmental Impact Statement, to prepare for congressional authorization.
Not only are construction projects and planning efforts moving forward, but also the development of the final operating plan for the Modified Water Deliveries and C-111 South Dade project. Currently, the first increment of the G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test is under development and is anticipated to begin early next year. This field test is the first step in the incremental approach to develop the final operating plan for the Modified Water Deliveries and C-111 South Dade projects.
A lot was accomplished in 2014 and progress continues to be made in the Corps’ restoration efforts. Twenty fourteen set the tone that the Corps will continue to do great things, even with a smaller budget than in years passed, and if the accomplishments of 2014 were to demonstrate anything, it’s that momentum remains strong for Everglades restoration progress as we enter into the new year and this momentum will be built upon in 2015.