‘Deep injection wells’ is a term you may have heard lately as it relates to Lake Okeechobee water levels. Here is what it all means.
Deep injection wells have been proposed by the South Florida Water Management District, under the guise of “emergency estuary protection wells” (EEPWs), as a way to alleviate Lake Okeechobee discharges to the coasts by, instead—injecting the polluted water 3,000-feet underground.
The District recently presented the plan to their governing board, with the request to move forward with two test wells at pre-evaluated sites around Lake Okeechobee. Over the next 7-10 years, SFWMD plans to construct up to 60 wells, costing taxpayers upwards of $300 million.
So, what are deep injection wells?
Deep injection wells are a decades-old technology designed to dispose of substances by injecting them underground into porous geological formations. Due to widespread public and scientific opposition to these wells for years, the South Florida Water Management District has recently rebranded injection wells in attempt to make it look like they’re doing something productive.
The District’s plan is to drill the wells 3,000-feet into south Florida’s “boulder zone,” the lower water table of the Floridan Aquifer system. The boulder zone is a cavernous layer that has been used for years to store sewage from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Stuart. It’s thought to be connected to the Atlantic Ocean where the substances will eventually be released, possibly over centuries.
Will they help alleviate the discharges to the coasts?
Nobody knows. This technology has never been used for this application. Scientists do not know what the capacity of the boulder zone is, or what long term negative effects could result from the operation of the wells.
SFWMD estimates that each well could pump up to 15 million gallons per day. Discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers often total in the billions of gallons per day.
SFWMD acknowledges that the wells are not a substitute for Everglades restoration AND that they won’t eliminate Lake Okeechobee discharges completely. If this is the case, why funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into a project that is a lose-lose?
Where does Captains for Clean Water stand on the issue?
There are many reasons why Captains for Clean Water opposes deep injection wells—and “emergency estuary protection wells” for that matter—but here are the top three.
1) The long-term geological and environmental impacts are unknown.
Deep injection wells (DIWs) have been used by government and industries across the U.S. to store hazardous waste and sewage for years, despite concerns that these substances could seep up into the drinking water or cause other catastrophic effects. DIWs are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but violations and leaks are a known occurrence.
Over 200 deep injection wells are in operation around Florida, but even DIW supporters admit that no one really knows where the waste goes. The capacity of the boulder zone is unknown and the argument that “it’s worked before so it will work forever” is not a scientifically-sound one.
2) It’s a waste of time, money and water, needed for long-term solutions.
A “bright, shiny object” as Daniel Andrews puts it, Executive Director of Captains for Clean Water. These wells are a distraction from Everglades restoration projects that hold real environmental benefits.
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects are a 50/50 cost share between the state and federal government. Captains for Clean Water went to Washington DC this spring to ask the Feds to authorize and fund the EAA Reservoir project. We also need to fund the Central Everglades Project (CEP), which removes barriers to flow in the Everglades so water can flow south as it historically did. We also need funding for more bridging of Tamiami Trail so the water can flow freely all the way to Everglades National Park. We’re racing against the clock to save Florida Bay, but the politicians haven’t put enough funding forward to start the process.
Andrews comments, “They think spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this experiment will silence their constituents whose businesses are being destroyed by Lake Okeechobee discharges. With record droughts the last few years and a limited budget to spend on CERP projects that we know will work, what makes them think this is how they should be spending our tax dollars?”
3) This doesn’t solve the greater issue: the Everglades and Florida Bay still need water.
The water is desperately needed in the Everglades and Florida Bay and the construction of DIWs would divert much-needed resources away from projects that will make this happen. Everglades restoration should be our priority.
Captain Benny Blanco, a long-time fishing guide in Florida Bay, explains the perspective that many guides share, “As a Florida Bay guide, I feel that SFWMD and the State of Florida have completely forgotten about the importance of Florida Bay. Further delaying construction on the EAA Reservoir and utilizing funds for anything else, is a slap in the face. Florida Bay cannot survive another drought summer. By all means, every priority and the highest sense of urgency must be placed on capturing, treating, and sending clean water south.”