Ivey Spivey is one of hundreds of workers who build the massive C-43 reservoir in Florida. Meet him on-site.
Restoring the Everglades
In the heart of the south of Florida, a giant hydrological restoration project is taking place. The mission is to secure the waterflows to a healthy level after decades of draining the land. The construction of the C-43 water reservoir is an important piece of the puzzle to restore the whole of the Everglades to its former glory.
Healthy ecosystems are vital to all life on Earth. Yet in the last one hundred years, ecosystems everywhere have fallen victim to degradation, with severe consequences for the environment and consequently wildlife and humans.
One of the most well-known and unique natural regions in the world is Florida’s Everglades. The tropical wetlands form an ecosystem that is truly one of a kind, not to be found anywhere else on the planet, and home to a vastly rich plant- and wildlife. The rivers and estuaries in the area provide drinking water to more than 8 million people as well as support the agriculture in the area. The Everglades is also home to two Native American tribes. In addition, tourism is dependent on the ecosystem to work. More than one million tourists visit the Everglades each year.
But this unique area is now half the size it was a century ago and its biodiversity is threatened due to more than a hundred years of draining and the transformation of it into farmland. This is the reason why it is now also home to one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in the United States.
One of the key components of the Everglades restoration is a megaproject consisting of building a new water storage reservoir in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, the so-called C-43 reservoir project, where Volvo CE has dozens of machines on-site.
“We have other projects that we need to do in the watershed, but this is the keystone project to restore the health of the Caloosahatchee Estuary,” says Phil Flood from the South Florida Water Management District, which is in charge of the massive enterprise. Once completed in 2023, the reservoir will be the size of 47 square kilometers (10,000 acres) and be able to store over 200 billion of liters (53 billion gallons) of local basin stormwater that are runoff and releases from Lake Okeechobee.
As it stands now, when the lake gets too full during the rainy season, the water runs down the Caloosahatchee River into the Gulf of Mexico. The nutrients in that water lead to harmful blue-green algae blooms and noxious red tides which kill off vast quantities of fish, manatees and plant life, in turn disrupting the balance of the entire ecosystem.
The idea is that the water from the lake would instead flow into the C-43 reservoir where it would be treated and then released during the dry season, providing essential flows. The dry season is when water from the Gulf makes its way into the Caloosahatchee River, disrupting the salinity balance. The C-43 reservoir will rectify this.
“It’s very important that we restore the Everglades so that we can have a source of drinking water to sustain not just our residents, but also the agriculture and commercial operations that we have around the areas,” continues Phil Flood.
Naturally a project of this scope has its share of dilemmas, and logistic problems have to be solved along the way. When we visit the site, moving earth to build a narrow dam and a canal that encloses the reservoir is a large portion of the work. This type of construction leaves the machines in narrower and narrower spaces as they are digging.
“The site is an extensive place. And it is good for us when we store all the materials we need. But when we move earth and build the perimeter, we don’t have any use of the vast area. Right now, we are digging on a 60 meter (197 feet) wide area but very soon this area will narrow down and reach 4 meters (13 feet). It is a very minimal space for the machines,” says Massimo Bugliosi, Project Director, Lane Construction-Salini Impregilo.
He explains how they have solved the problem, and the key is for sure in the planning, and to have versatile equipment.
“You need to plan all the activities in the right sequence and be sure that this sequence works in the limited space you have. For this, the machines need to be very versatile. The Volvo machines work very well in narrow spaces,” says Massimo Bugliosi.
The project to restore the Everglades has been ongoing since 2000 when the U.S. Congress approved a strategy known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The plan consists of, amongst other things, creating water preserve areas, removing barriers to sheet flow, managing Lake Okeechobee as an ecological resource and creating surface water storage reservoirs, since one of the main issues has been the inflow of natural water after years of draining the swamps. The C-43 reservoir is an important piece of the puzzle in this regard. The subsequent environmental problems have had adverse effects on the quality of life, not just for wildlife and fisheries, but for the people of Florida as the decline in tourism has led to a downturn in the state’s economy.
The C-43 reservoir project is certainly well on its way to change the lives of the inhabitants of Florida for the better and will boost quality of life for humans and wildlife alike. This ecosystem restoration venture is a huge step towards creating a sustainable future where human expansion no longer poses a threat.
“It is a special project for Florida and a special project for the environment. I’ve never worked on a project where the local residents are so happy about its progression. They will benefit a lot from it, and so will the nature and wildlife,” finishes Massimo Bugliosi.