Photo Credit: South Florida Water Management District

The Scientific Uncertainty of ASR

Each of the red outlines in the map above indicates a proposed cluster of aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells. Pitched as an answer to water-storage needs north of Lake Okeechobee, the wells’ feasible use within Everglades restoration and exorbitant cost have been at the center of heated debate in Florida’s environmental community.

Proponents claim the technology offers a way to store large volumes of water deep in the aquifer — water that would otherwise pour untreated into Lake Okeechobee. But scientific concerns abound. Some experts say they’re inefficient and won’t have enough capacity to relieve toxic discharges, and they warn that metals dissolved in the water while it’s underground, including arsenic, could wind up in Lake Okeechobee.

In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences identified 5 major areas of uncertainty that needed to be addressed before it was clear that ASR would be viable on a regional scale in CERP: 1) protecting water quality, 2) ecotoxicology risk, 3) potential for phosphorus reductions, 4) disinfection and treatment, and 5) costs.Two decades later, these uncertainties have not been adequately addressed, while construction and operational costs have multiplied by 300%. Despite this, the state of Florida wants to spend about half a billion dollars for the implementation of 80 wells as the central component of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP).

In comments submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of Friends of the Everglades, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club Florida, Dr. Tom Van Lent expounds on the crucial questions about the safety of ASR for Everglades aquatic ecosystems. His scientific analysis underscores the need for the Army Corps to provide the scientific foundation necessary to assure ASR wells will not adversely affect aquatic ecosystems, are cost-effective, and able to provide the claimed benefits before proceeding with the authorization of LOWRP.

Without this affirmation, there’s no reasonable assurance that this project is not just one more gift for water users, including Big Sugar, providing another source of water for irrigating crops at the expense of more critical Everglades restoration infrastructure and on the backs of taxpayers.