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Huge reservoir to restore flow to the Everglades

Published July 21, 2006

IN THE EVERGLADES - Engineers next month will begin building one of the world's largest man-made reservoirs, as efforts continue to restore natural water flow to the Everglades.

The reservoir, set for completion in 2010, will cover roughly 25 square miles, hold 62-billion gallons of water - the equivalent of about 5.1-million residential swimming pools - and be 7 miles across at its widest.

"When you stand on one side of this reservoir, you will not see the other side," said Carol Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency charged with managing Everglades water.

Most reservoirs are built to catch and hold water flow from a natural source. In this case, 30-million tons of earth will be dug from flat land to form a basin surrounded by a 26-foot-high, 21-mile-long levee, making it larger than any other reservoir not connected to a natural source, state officials say.

The project is part of the overall 30-year, $10.5-billion federal-state partnership in the world's largest wetland restoration effort.

Decades of dikes, dams and diversions have sickened the Everglades. Lake Okeechobee, once the vast wetland's liquid life source, has been encircled by a dike, its waters laden with phosphorous from farms and suburban sprawl. The nutrient is choking life from the ecosystem.

And because officials have historically had few places to store water, Lake Okeechobee is maintained at a higher-than-optimal level, which keeps sunlight from reaching vital vegetation on the lake's bottom.

The $400-million reservoir will allow water managers to redirect storm drainage, lowering Lake Okeechobee levels and reducing pressure on its aging dike. The diversion will also minimize the need for damaging deluges let loose through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that feed into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The stored water will also provide nourishment for the Everglades during dry seasons.

The federal government approved the permit for construction last week.

The overall plan will eventually encompass two additional, smaller reservoirs near Lake Okeechobee.

[Last modified July 20, 2006, 23:23:26]

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