That's the task the Florida Legislature set for the South Florida Water Management District.
But how? Decades of development had eliminated the sheet flow of water from Lake Okeechobee. Densely populated cities and a 700,000-acre agricultural area, drained by 1,500 miles of canals and levees, now lay between the lake and the Everglades. Wetlands have disappeared. Worse, non-native plants flourish in the phosphorus-rich runoff. The excess nutrients and diminished water flow threaten the remnant Everglades' unique ecosystem.
The Big Picture: Conceptual Design
Burns & McDonnell served as a technical advisor to Florida in the early 1990s during settlement of litigation against the state and drafting of the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. The South Florida Water Management District's scientists and Burns & McDonnell engineers proposed a solution that would be key to restoration efforts.
The plan was bold: Construct 40,000 acres of man-made wetlands, and redirect runoff from over 400 square miles to mimic historic deliveries. Huge pump stations and automated control structures would direct agricultural and urban runoff and releases from Lake Okeechobee through these wetlands. There, cattail and other wetland plants would absorb phosphorus, binding it in the peat created as the plants died. Cleansed water could then be slowly released to resemble original flows from the great lake.
Providing the Theory
In 1989, using man-made wetlands for stormwater treatment was new technology. Would it work on this scale? Could it reduce phosphorus levels enough? The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and Burns & McDonnell set out to prove it could. SFWMD and Burns & McDonnell engineers, hydrologists and wetlands scientists designed a 3,800-acre constructed wetland as a pilot project. The target was 50 parts per billion (ppb).
The Everglades Nutrient Removal Project exceeded expectations. The man-made wetlands reduced phosphorus to less than 30 ppb.
Burns & McDonnell and the Everglades Construction Project
- Related project consultation
- Author of long-term plan
- Continuing 19-year partnership
- All services delivered on time, on budget
- Project and construction management
- Original conceptual and preliminary design for the entire project
- More than 50 percent detailed design
- Coordination with multiple stakeholders
Science Applied: Everglades Construction Project
When the legislature passed the 1994 Everglades Forever Act, it specifically called for the plan Burns & McDonnell created — as did the Federal Water Resources Development Act of 1996.
In developing the treatment design to achieve an interim discharge goal of 50 ppb, SFWMD and Burns & McDonnell prepared preliminary design and general design for the entire Everglades Construction Project (ECP). In 2003, Burns & McDonnell authored a long-term plan for additional steps necessary to meet a final 10 ppb limit.
Together with the South Florida Water Management District, the Corps of Engineers, and other stakeholders, Burns & McDonnell is helping to make Everglades restoration a reality. Burns & McDonnell completed detailed design for more than half the ECP. The company has provided economic, regulatory, project management and other consulting services, including detailed design and construction-phase services for the recently dedicated, 16,543-acre Stormwater Treatment Area 3/4 (STA 3/4), the largest man-made wetlands in the world.
Burns & McDonnell also assisted with related projects vital to the Everglades' survival, including the Kissimmee River Restoration and Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation Water Conservation Plan.
There is still much to be done to preserve the Everglades. But the work proceeds in a spirit of hope. Burns & McDonnell is proud to have helped turn hope into reality.
STA 3/4 Progress Highlight
- 16,543 acres of man-made wetland
- More than 50 miles of levees and canals
- Two pumping stations
- Over 5 billion-gallons-per-day capacity
- 48 fully automated control structures
- New highway and secondary bridges
- Largest man-made wetlands in the world