Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Deep injection wells would waste water and money

“Don’t waste water.” That message has been hammered into our heads since we were children. Yet, to our dismay, a few weeks ago, without public notice, Governor Scott’s hand-picked board members at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) decided to go it alone on a plan to dispose of billions of gallons of untreated freshwater permanently by pumping it deep into the earth - water needed for the Everglades, Florida Bay and our drinking water supply.

Poster, Army Conservation Project,
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The move came after the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) rejected further consideration of so-called Deep Injection Wells.  The Corps’ decision did not sit well with SFWMD board members, who seem much too eager to please Big Sugar and Big Ag interests.  Last August, the three largest Big Sugar corporations (US Sugar, Florida Crystals and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative) requested deep injection wells be included in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed CERP project. Soon after, as many as 100 deep injection wells were under consideration, with estimated construction costs as much as one billion dollars.

But, the Corps, recognizing the risk of limited hydrogeologic data in the proposed project area, rightly decided to drop deep injection wells from further consideration. Instead, they recommended a comprehensive study to evaluate potential system-wide impacts to the Everglades ecosystem. The Boulder Zone, where water would be dumped 3,000 feet down, is supposed to be confined. But, this layer could be prone to vertical cracks that might allow untreated surface water to migrate back up into drinking water sources. Considering these uncertainties, it’s shocking how quickly the Governor and his water managers want to move forward with this.

Diagram of Deep Injection Well
Just four months ago, when faced with an intense drought, the SFWMD said it was “operating the system to save as much water as possible.”  If we are constantly prone to droughts, why would Scott’s water managers want to squander freshwater?  They claim that doing so would help reduce Lake O discharges to the estuaries during extreme wet events. However, this dumping-water “solution” will create new regional problems.  The injected water will take centuries to reach the sea and surface again. It will not be available in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime, to recharge our aquifers, our rivers, our wetlands, or even to give us rain.

Big Sugar and Big Ag will stop at nothing to avoid selling any more land, whether north or south of the Lake.  What is surprising is the extremes they would go:  to deprive the public of billions of gallons of water in an age of recurring and intensifying droughts.  We all desire a stop to harmful Lake O discharges to the estuaries, but the solution is not to create a new problem.

A Deep Injection Wellhead
Deep injection wells will divert dollars needed to restore wetlands, to supply water during droughts, to irrigate our crops, to send more clean water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay, to replenish the drinking water aquifer for millions, and to fight saltwater intrusion and sea level rise.  Governor Scott’s water managers say the state will pay for all of it.  Let’s demand our money be spent on real Everglades Restoration.

Diana Umpierre is Sierra Club's Everglades Organizing Representative. She can be reached at: diana.umpierre@sierraclub.org.

To find more about why Sierra Club opposes deep injection wells in Everglades Restoration, check out our position statement.

What can you do?

1) Send a thank you note to the US Army Corps of Engineers for making the right decision and not agreeing to wasting our federal tax dollars on deep injection wells that do not help restore the Everglades. And, encourage them to seek project alternatives that are closer to true restoration of wetlands and other natural surface water storage and flows that benefit people and wildlife. Send your thanks to: OkeechobeeWatershedRestoration@usace.army.mil and bbc: diana.umpierre@sierraclub.org to know of your action. In the body of the email, address your comments to:

Tim Gysan, USACE Project Manager
Colonel Jason A. Kirk, Commander of USACE Jacksonville District

2) Write a “Letter-to-the-Editor” (LTE) in your local news in South Florida to express why you do NOT support the use of deep injection wells in Everglades Restoration. It’s easy, it’s fast: it makes a difference! Click here for quick How-To. Contact us if you would like more writing tips, or want to get more involved in restoring our precious jewel: the American’s Everglades, our River of Grass.