Water Farms Helping South Florida Go With the Flow
Last month, Florida experienced its rainiest May on record. And just think, the wet season is only getting started in the Sunshine State. With the earlier-than-normal super soaking, and no let-up in the immediate offing, a public-private partnership between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and Caulkins Citrus Co. has been working at full capacity to store local stormwater runoff and help reduce U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary.
The Caulkins Water Farm is built on a 3,200-acre former citrus grove east of Indiantown just off the C-44 Canal. After a two-year pilot project stored more than 40,500 acre-feet of water from the canal and direct rainfall on just 450 acres, SFWMD and the Caulkins Citrus Co. formed a public-private partnership to help store water on a much larger scale.
Since May 15, the Caulkins Water Farm has stored more than 5,500 acre-feet of local basin runoff and Lake Okeechobee discharges on top of the 6,000 acre-feet of direct rainfall on the site, keeping that water from flowing into the St. Lucie Estuary, SFWMD reports.
Caulkins’ Water Farm officials have found the site can continuously take 150 acre-feet of water out of the C-44 Canal and onto the Caulkins Water Farm per day. This amount matches the daily rate of water lost from the site through percolation and evaporation, allowing the site to continuously operate if site conditions remain unchanged.
In recent years, SFWMD has used its Dispersed Water Management program to store water on public lands and partner with private landowners to do the same. Since record rainfall started in May, Lake Okeechobee has risen more than a foot in a matter of weeks. Efforts have been mounted to use all available capacity to store or move water in an effort to protect the estuaries.
According to SFWMD, the total storage capacity of all of these water farming projects is about 54,000 acre-feet. The District is working with these partners to maximize the capacity in the coming days and weeks to reduce the impact of and need for releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries for flood protection.