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Understanding the value of water


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In this issue

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Celebrating our volunteers!

Hundreds share their time and energy on district projects and enrich its core mission in a variety of ways.

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Expanded restoration work

Amendment One funding helps to expand restoration work at several district projects.

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Preventative maintenance

Once a major restoration project is completed, the work continues as the district begins long-term maintenance.

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After the storm

District staff shine through Hurricane Matthew.

Preventative maintenance is critical to flood protection mission

By Ed Garland

In some ways, an environmental restoration project can be likened to home ownership: once you’re done building the structure, you still face a lifetime of upkeep.

A prime example is the St. Johns River Water Management District’s completion of the Upper St. Johns River Basin Project in summer 2016. The district and its partnering agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, celebrated the completion of one of the largest flood control and environmental restoration projects in the world, an endeavor spanning nearly 40 years.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Transforming vast expanses of agricultural land — more than 166,000 acres all told — into marshes and water management areas required the construction of spillways, gated culverts and levees.

“In the Upper St. Johns River Basin, long-term maintenance of structures is a step in the right direction.”

— District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle

“Flood protection is one of our agency’s core missions,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Dr. Ann Shortelle. “In the Upper St. Johns River Basin, long-term maintenance of structures is a step in the right direction.”

Abiding by a federally mandated maintenance plan for the headwaters of the longest river in Florida is no mean feat. The manmade geometry that defines this region includes 127 miles of levees, seven major spillways and dozens of lesser water control structures such as gated culverts.

The Upper Basin Project’s innovative design is one that attempts to mimic the ebb and flow of nature. Considering that the project covers 247 square miles, levees and spillways are relatively minimal. However, nature is also unforgiving to the very things that try to emulate her. Storm-churned waves gnaw at levee slopes while seemingly invincible spillways — assemblages of concrete and steel — are, like most things, subject to inevitable decay.

“Not only did we complete the Upper Basin Project, 2016 was a banner year for maintaining the structural integrity of several critical flood control structures,” Shortelle says. “We’re thankful to our sister agency, the South Florida Water Management District, for their expertise in refurbishing these massive structures.”

The first makeover was completed in fall 2015, when district work crews installed a refurbished gate at the S-96A structure at the west end of the C-54 canal, located at the boundary of Brevard and Indian River counties. The makeover included new hardware and paint, much of the work completed by the South Florida Water Management District.

“We refurbish the structure every 10 years so that we are meeting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifications,” says James Rider, district Public Works Program manager. “We want to make sure that we are always hurricane ready.”

In December 2016, the district hosted a celebration to highlight a $2 million rehabilitation of a water control structure at Taylor Creek Reservoir that provides flood protection and water supply benefits to Brevard and Osceola counties.

“The S-164 water control structure is integral to maintaining water levels in Taylor Creek Reservoir necessary to prevent flooding while protecting the reservoir as a water supply source,” Shortelle says. “Refurbishing this structure ensures that we are meeting federal flood control standards established by our partner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

A crane is used to carefully move a refurbished gate into place at the S-96A water control structure. Maintenance is an ongoing endeavor at district water control facilities to ensure they function properly.

Constructed in the 1960s, Taylor Creek Reservoir was part of the original federal Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project and was designed to capture and hold upland stormwater before it reached the river to reduce flood stages in the Lake Poinsett area of the St. Johns River. Today, the reservoir provides drinking water to the city of Cocoa and its customers, and provides irrigation water to the sprawling Deseret Ranches of Florida.

It’s not just weather and the elements that wreak havoc on flood control structures; plants and animals can also present challenges. The district’s Invasive Plant Program staff wage a quiet war against ubiquitous hydrilla that can clog spillway gates and Brazilian pepper and Carolina willow that can infringe on levee slopes.

Even the unassuming gopher tortoise can serve as a catalyst for a major refurbishment.

Two years ago, the district also launched a pilot project to relocate gopher tortoises from a portion of the levee system at Taylor Creek Reservoir. An estimated 1,500 gopher tortoise burrows puncture the flanks of the levee system in the Upper St. Johns River Basin, a system mostly constructed by the Corps. Tortoise burrows pose a dilemma because burrows can compromise the structural integrity of levees, primarily through erosion.

“Operation and maintenance of our flood control structures can mean many things,” Shortelle says. “We’re fortunate to have a talented staff of men and women whose expertise in public works, engineering and biology cover the gamut of our long-term mission.”


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St. Johns River Water Management District
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