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EPA funds in-house water utilities training to combat climate change

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency met with professionals from the Tribe’s Environmental Resource Management and Public Works departments March 26-27 to address climate change impacts that may affect tribal water utilities.

The meetings were part of the EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities initiative, which provides funds, training and technical assistance to help water utilities prepare for climate change in 20 communities nationwide.

The most serious risks facing the Tribe in Brighton were identified as wildfires that could damage the water treatment plant. Aquifer contamination from surface runoff and increased water demand were cited as the biggest threats in Hollywood.

“We didn’t really see anything climatically in the data that would radically change the water supply,” said Gary Braganza, Public Works water quality specialist. “We are too far from the coast for salt water intrusion to impact us in Hollywood, so we looked at things that were more pressing.”

Contaminated runoff from increased population and development was considered to be more of a threat than climate change. The EPA will work with the Tribe to manage future challenges.

“We are at mercy of something we can’t control. We just have to deal with it as it comes,” Braganza said. “The EPA was very willing to work with us with what we define as threats to us and not just impose a climate model.”

Hollywood and Big Cypress draw water from the relatively shallow Biscayne Aquifer. Immokalee receives water from the Tamiami Formation. Brighton currently gets its water from the shallow surficial aquifer, but there are plans to drill two additional wells into the deeper Floridan Aquifer.

According to the EPA, deeper wells will yield higher quality water and reduce treatment costs. However, the EPA is concerned the Floridan Aquifer could be affected by increased demand as a result of other water systems in the region all tapping into the same location. But the threat was deemed less of a priority than wildfire.

The EPA provided Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool software to help the Tribe assess risks from climate change.

Based on the software’s analysis, threats to the Tribe are low.

“Climate change is such a broad topic, but the software is a good tool,” said Carolina Speroterra, Environmental Resource Management water quality technician. “It is a framework of how to organize things that may be affected by climate change threats. It was a useful meeting and it allowed us to get together to talk about issues we haven’t thought of before.”

The group, which included Braganza, Speroterra, the EPA’s Mike Maier and consultants hired by the EPA, toured the Brighton water treatment plant and discussed various scenarios to protect it from fire. The building is made of concrete and metal, but the site is vulnerable because a backup generator is near a tree line.

In Hollywood, the Tribe’s demand for water from the aquifer will likely double when it starts to provide water to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Currently, the Tribe depends on a non-Seminole utility to supply water to the venue.

“We have no news as to when or how it will occur, but we are installing two more wells in Hollywood to meet that demand,” Braganza said. “The Tribe wants to retain self-sufficiency and not rely on any other utility for its water.”

By the end of the meetings, the group had identified solutions to several threats. In Brighton, the group agreed the generator should be moved away from the tree line and placed behind a firewall.

In Hollywood, discussions included community outreach, drought contingency plans, and landscape and irrigation changes to the casino.

The Tribe will continue to use the software and work with the EPA for the next two to three years while collecting data for analysis at future meetings.

 

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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