District, partners celebrate milestone at Upper St. Johns River Basin Project

Dr. Shortelle speaking at an Upper St. Johns River Basin Project event

District, partners celebrate milestone at Upper St. Johns River Basin Project

PALM BAY, Fla., Aug. 23, 2016 — Four decades after it was first conceived, one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the world is now complete, although operation and maintenance of the award-winning project will continue.

The St. Johns River Water Management District and its partners today celebrated the completion of the Upper St. Johns River Basin Project, a marsh restoration and flood control project covering more than 166,000 acres in Brevard and Indian River counties.

“The Upper Basin Project has breathed new life into the headwaters of the St. Johns River,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “Our predecessors at the district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shared an ambitious, seemingly insurmountable vision. Today, we leave behind a legacy for future generations.”

The conclusion of this project moves it into long-term maintenance, Shortelle added.

“We will continue making progress in the upper basin, but the completion of this milestone project is a huge leap in the right direction,” she said.

In the early 1900s, the upper basin was diked and drained for agricultural purposes. By the early 1970s, 62 percent of the marsh was gone and canals were constructed to divert floodwaters from the basin to the Indian River Lagoon to the east. The alterations diminished water quality in the lagoon and degraded the upper basin’s remaining marshes.

The district and the Corps joined forces in 1977, designing a project that would restore drained marshes, provide flood protection, virtually eliminate freshwater discharges to the Indian River Lagoon, isolate agricultural runoff from the St. Johns River and restore habitat for wildlife and fisheries.

“The Upper Basin Project has been a game changer for citrus growers in Indian River County,” said District Governing Board member Douglas Bournique, who also serves as executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League. “The availability of water for irrigation and freeze protection has protected our industry time and again.”

Since the project’s inception, the Corps performed the engineering design and managed its construction; operation and maintenance lies with the District.

“This project challenged hundreds of scientists, engineers, project managers and leaders to implement new, more natural approaches in a watershed-wide project that provides flood control, water quality improvements and marsh restoration,” Col. Jason A. Kirk, commander of Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The success of this project shows what can be accomplished through shared commitment and focus over time and working across broad watersheds. The many individuals and organizations that cooperated on this project deserve to be very proud of bringing the Three Forks Marsh project forward to this significant milestone. They have set the standard in working together to make tomorrow better.”

Earlier this month, the Florida Engineering Society lauded the Upper Basin Project as a Project of the Century, presenting project engineers with an excellence in engineering award. This is the second major award to recognize this project – the other was the international Thiess River Prize in October 2008.

Visit www.sjrwmd.com/upperstjohnsriver for more information about the Upper Basin Project.