Oct 04, 2007

Lee, WMD Nearing Accord on Lake O Treatment Plant

Lee County officials and state water managers are nearing an agreement on a long-awaited facility to clean fouled water rushing out of Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River.

At a board meeting Tuesday, Lee County commissioners pledged $10 million for the project and unanimously directed their staff to develop an agreement with the state and the South Florida Water Management District to purchase nearly 2,000 acres and construct one or more stormwater-treatment plants.

“This is a good first start on a mammoth problem,” said Commissioner Ray Judah. “This is the right direction to water quality.”

Southwest Florida officials have been asking the district for years to build a water treatment plant to go with a massive new reservoir that is being constructed in Hendry County. Additional storage from the reservoir will hold back some of the damaging high-water flows from the lake while a treatment facility will remove some of the pollution from the nutrient-laden water.

Water management district officials have not yet decided where to build the treatment facility. The price for one of 10 locations under consideration could hit about $40 million, said Roland Ottolini, county Division of Natural Resources director.

The cost of construction could reach as high as $135 million or more, he said.
The county budget already has $5 million set aside for projects like this, but not specifically for this project. Plans call for $5 million this fiscal year and $5 million the next. Exact due dates are not set.

The same amount would be paid by the state and the water management district every year for what could turn out to be a variety of projects to clean water, said Phil Flood, director of the lower west coast for the water management district.