The report reviews a comprehensive research plan on Everglades restoration drafted by federal and Florida officials that assesses a central feature of the restoration: a proposal to drill more than 300 wells funneling up to 1.7 billion gallons of water a day into underground aquifers, where it would be stored and then pumped back to the surface to replenish the Everglades during dry periods. The report says that the research plan goes a long way to providing information needed to settle remaining technical questions and clearly responds to suggestions offered by scientists in Florida and in a previous report by the NRC.
Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is a major component in the CERP, which was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The plan would use the upper Floridian aquifer to store large quantities of surface water and shallow groundwater during wet periods for recovery during droughts.
ASR may limit evaporation losses and permit recovery of large volumes of water during multi-year droughts. However, the proposed scale is unprecedented and little subsurface information has been compiled. Key unknowns include impacts on existing aquifer uses, suitability of source waters for recharge, and environmental and/or human health impacts due to water quality changes during subsurface storage.
To address these issues, the USACE and SFWMD proposed aquifer storage recharge pilot projects in two key areas. The CROGEE charge was to examine a draft of their plans from a perspective of adaptive management. The report concludes that regional hydrogeologic assessment should include development of a regional-scale groundwater flow model, extensive well drilling and water quality sampling, and a multi-objective approach to ASR facility siting. It also recommends that water quality studies include laboratory and field bioassays and ecotoxicological studies, studies to characterize organic carbon of the source water and anticipate its effects on subsurface biogeochemical processes, and laboratory studies. Finally, it recommends that pilot projects be part of adaptive assessment.