Jeff Cole: Upper Basin Project provides numerous benefits
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 3:40 p.m.
The Upper St. Johns River Basin Project is one of the most ambitious wetland restoration projects of its kind in the world. The 250-square-mile joint project between the St. Johns River Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has restored more than 160,000 acres of freshwater marshes in Brevard and Indian River counties since its inception in 1977.
A recent article published in your online edition, omitted numerous key facts about the project. The Upper Basin Project was designed first and foremost to provide regional flood protection. The District is responsible for land acquisition and the Corps is responsible for construction of levees and water control structures. The result is a model of reliable flood control and sustainable environmental habitat restoration.
Among the many project benefits:
• Flood management. Since construction began on the project in 1988, major storm events have occurred in four separate years; 1994, 2004, 2008 and 2011. These separate and very distinct events all served to test the project’s flood management efficacy. Historical performance of the project has repeatedly proved that the levees and
structures perform at or above expectations during storm and rain events.
• Agricultural water supply. Agricultural runoff, kept isolated from the natural flow of the river, is being used for farm irrigation and freeze protection and is credited with protecting hundreds of agricultural jobs.
• Reducing estuary pollution. The project has helped protect Indian River Lagoon water quality by storing water in the Upper Basin instead of releasing the water directly into the lagoon.
• Endangered species protection. The Blue Cypress Water Management Area East is home to a population of endangered snail kites, some of the only 800 in existence today in Florida.
• Recreation. The Stick Marsh and Blue Cypress Lake thrive as public recreation areas, providing boating opportunities and some of the best bass fishing in Florida.
The Upper Basin Project is not yet complete. The remaining large impoundments under construction will provide added flood storage and water quality treatment. Because these areas are not yet fully operational, they do not yet provide the intended and expected levels of water quality benefits to the adjacent riverine marshes and downstream
The project was designed to intercept, separate and treat water from urbanized and agricultural areas largely south of Melbourne. Water quality in downstream lakes Washington, Winder and Poinsett is influenced more by the storm water entering the river from nearby urban areas.
After completing the project, we will ensure that the environmental benefits are maximized through a science-based, adaptive approach. To the extent that modifications, physical or operational, can be made to further improve water quality in the project area and to the downstream reaches of the river, such changes will be made.
Without the Upper Basin Project, water quality in downstream Brevard lakes would have declined significantly over the last 20 years with the many changes that have impacted the region. It is also clear that the project has been successful in providing reliable flood protection, needed irrigation for crops and better habitat for fish and wildlife. As a result, the river, and the creatures and people who depend on it, are better off.
St. Johns River Water Management District
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