July 30, 1986
Experimental water plan studied
System would create-underground canteen
By RANDY LOFTIS
HMawuld SU# Wrer.
Engineers want to punch a $2.5 million hole
in Florida's stony heart, a ole as deep as a
10-story building is tall.
It is a downward view into the future a
partial solution, perhaps. to the pollution
problems of one of the country's biggest lakes.
Like any government project, the experi-
ment has an alphabetical name. ASR. for
aquifer storage and recovery, Is a hydrogeolo-
gist's way of reaching for the star.
"It's a relatively new water management
technology ... Just In an experimental phase,"
said Sharon Trost, the South Florida Water
Management District's director of hydrogeolo-
gy, who is probing the limestone bottom of
Okeechobee County cattle country.
The science of ASR Is still a little soft. but
the idea Is simple enough: Use the Floridan
Aquifer, the thick sponge of rock far below the
Florida ground, as canteen of continental
When plenty of water is available, use
powerful pumps to shoot billions of gallons
into the peninsula's rock, 1.000 to 1.700 feet
down. When the water Is needed again, in one
of South Florida's frequent water shortages, let
natural pressure push it back to the surface.
If the experiment works, one of the biggest
beneficiaries could be Lake Okeechobee, the
giant lake beleaguered by polluted drainage
ASR was part of a state task force's
S219-million proposal to clean up the lake,
where overloads of the nutrient phosphorus
threaten the lake's long-term health.
The water management district, which
controls water supply, flood protection and
major environmental programs across 16
counties, responded by planning a test at a
40-acre site near the city of Okeechobee.
If the test works, two dozen pumps could be
installed by the'early 1990s, pushing pollution
The idea. s that every gallon of farm water
pumped Into underground storage represents
.pollutants that won't be dumped into the lake.
Scientists also hope to test a theory that
phosphorus molecules In the farm water a
. byproduct of cow manure from the extensive
dairies north and northeast of the lake -
.* eight cling to the limestone 1,600 feet
underground. That would mean dirty water
pumped down the hole would be cleaner when
It came back.
"That's theorized," Trost said. "We .don't
Taxpayers could benefit, too. Early esti-
mates indicate that ASR Is probably cheaper
per gallon than the biggest element of the
lake-saving plan building a 10,000-acre
reservoir to hold the farm water.
A new reservoir might cost as much as $56
million for design, land purchases and con-
struction, the lake task force estimated earlier
The panel said ASR could do a comparable
job of protecting the lake for about $13 million.
with greater benefit for South Florida's water
supplies because water that's underground
can t evaporate. South Florida loses as much as
70 percent of its water to evaporation from
lakes, canals and the Everglades.
ASR wouldn't entirely replace the proposed
reservoir, but It might let the engineers get by
with a smaller, less expensive one.
Technicians say those factors make ASR an
"We have this free, underground reservoir
that already exists." said Trost, a Pennsylvania
native who joined the West Palm Beach-based
district six years ago after working in the arid
Southwest and ia Washington, D.C.
"We want to take these nutrients away a
from the lake. The water can be stored In the I
aquifer during times of plenty until It's needed.
It could be used then to Irrigate citrus. That
would be excellent farm practice."
ASR would help to defuse some of the j
environmental controversy the reservoir idea i
Conservationists say they're concerned that i
water from tim reservoir would eventually be ;
dumped into ecologically sensitive areas, such
as the Indian River Lagoon. By spreading some
of the water between an ASR project and the
reservoir, the potential harm to other areas
would be much less severe.
Conservation groups are backing the dis-
trict's experiment. The Florida Department of
Environmental Regulation also has Indicated
its support. Farmers favor it because it would
help to insure them enough water.
"The conservationists have been concerned
about water quality impacts on the Floridan
Aquifer, but those concerns have been mostly
resolved." said Patricia Bidol, the district's
executive program director.
The project does have some potential
problems. The raw, untreated water going
down the tubes might clog up the passage with
contaminants. And no one knows for sure how
much of the water stored underground can be