Ebbing the flow

C-23 Canal

The former McCarty Ranch property was purchased to collect rain water and water from the C-23 Canal, store it, clean it and eventually use it for drinking water. The ranch is also being used for recreational fishing, hiking, horseback riding, camping and more. CITY OF PORT ST. LUCIE

City working on McCarty project to provide clean water and rivers


As the shovels dug into the earth before a crowd at McCarty Ranch Preserve in December, the first part of a long-held dream kicked in. The preserve, purchased to provide a long-term drinking water supply for the city, was about to see its first step toward that.

“The McCarty Ranch water quality project is really about saving our today and our future,” Mayor Greg Oravec told a group of eighth-graders from Forest Grove Middle School and a large gathering of local dignitaries and interested residents.

The dream of the city using water from that land goes all the way back to John McCarty, who managed the ranch that had been in his family for generations. He wanted to see the lakes formed by a company that mined coquina rock eventually used as a water supply. The city carried that dream forward when it purchased the ranch land for anti-pollution measures and future drinking water supply.

“They’re looking ahead,” observed former County Commissioner Charles Grande. “It’s good that this land will be used for water conservation instead of rooftops.”

The turn of shovels marked the launch of new reservoirs to capture and hold rainwater runoff and polluted water from the C-23 canal, keeping it from cascading into the North Fork of the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon.

The day couldn’t come too soon for Dave Brigida, president of the Port St. Lucie Anglers Club. “I think this is the right thing to do to protect the North Fork and the Indian River Lagoon,” he said. “We really need to do something right now.”

Polluted water in the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon affects the quality of life of residents and it hurts the economy, he noted, pointing to a drop-off in business at area bait shops as just one example.

The captured water won’t just reduce pollution in those waters, it will eventually help supply the city with cleaned, treated water for drinking.

“We should really take the
opportunity to prepare for the day when we need more water,” Brigida said. “It’s basic, like air. It’s right to prepare for a larger city now and not wait until the need is upon you.”
After purchasing 3,107 acres of the McCarty property in 2012, the city grabbed the opportunity to buy in 2014 an additional 1,900 acres adjacent to the canal where the six new capture reservoirs will be. A seventh reservoir, more than twice as big as the others, will just hold rainwater. Reservoir sizes vary from 49 acres to 300 acres. But the rainwater-only reservoir will be 730 acres.

When complete, consultants estimate that the $8 million project will keep 9 billion gallons of canal water and surface stormwater runoff from the North Fork and the Indian River Lagoon. That’s equal to removing up to 21 percent of the 42.3 billion gallons flowing from canal to river each year, the mayor said.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are major nutrients that feed algae growth in the rivers. Some algae is toxic and can cause respiratory distress, illness and rashes in humans. It can kill fish by depriving them of oxygen. It can cling to boats and docks and make the water unsafe for swimming and boating. And all of that damages the local economy.

The canals, which drain large areas of land, have both nutrients in abundance. The reservoirs will keep 90,000 pounds of nitrogen and 18,500 pounds of phosphorus out of the rivers. When enough fresh water enters the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon it can block the tide from flushing the rivers.

“We grew up eating fish out of the St. Lucie River and the Indian River,” said Donald Stiller, a native Floridian in a video produced by the city. “And now you see fish with lesions, you see unhealthy fish, you see skinny fish. We want the water to be pretty, to be swimmable, to be able to wash our face in the river, to jump overboard in the river.”

Work on the first of the reservoirs has begun with the clearing of old grove trees that no longer produce.

By the end of September, the first one should be finished. The cost of the 206-acre reservoir is almost $1.9 million. Of that, $645,000 came from grants. The second reservoir, costing $1.8 million and funded with a grant from the state should be finished by the end of this year. The rest await funding and have no completion date.

Next on the agenda, after the reservoirs are functioning, is a water treatment plant, although construction isn’t planned until 2035, according to Brad Macek, senior assistant utilities director in the city’s Utility Systems Department. A second plant may be under construction in 2050, 10 years before the projected build-out of the city “so it will have to have the capacity for more water than we will need in 2050.”

Planning is ongoing, but right now the city intends to use about 25 acres of the McCarty Ranch for the plant, and then spread storage throughout the rest of the 3,100 acres. That acreage is also being used for recreation such as trail riding, primitive camping and fishing. Once a year the city hosts a big event with a bonfire and other family-style entertainment.

Several alternatives are under consideration for freshwater treatment and storage, Macek said. Treatment can involve reverse osmosis to catch tiny particles and molecules and remove them from the water; it can also include filtration, aeration, lime, disinfection, and more. The right combination must be selected for the water being treated.

One way to store it is to send it about 100 feet down to the top of the Floridan Aquifer, an underground river of salty water. Fresh water will sit on top in a sort of bubble, Macek said, because saltwater is more dense than fresh water. Then, it can be withdrawn as needed.

Port St. Lucie is looking at its future, Oravec said.

Or to put it another way, “The start of the project is a hallelujah moment” for the city, Grande said.


*Note that the C before each number stands for Canal.

  • C-23 flows to St. Lucie River at the Martin-St. Lucie County Line, then to the Indian River Lagoon.
  • C-24 flows to the North Fork of the St. Lucie River and then south, where it ends up in the Indian River Lagoon.
  • C-44 flows from Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St. Lucie River in Martin County and then flows north where it ends up in the Indian River Lagoon.

  • *from the city’s watershed map.


  • Total for design, permitting, construction: $8 million.
  • Annual operating and maintenance cost: $181,000

  • ACREAGE (+ or -)

  • McCarty Ranch: 3100 McCarty Ranch Extension (where the reservoirs are going): 1900
  • Reservoir 1: 206
  • Reservoir 2: 239
  • Reservoir 3: 250
  • Reservoir 4: 300
  • Reservoir 5: 49
  • Reservoir 6: 99
  • Reservoir 7: 730 (for rainwater only)


  • Now – about 185,000
  • Build-out in 2060: about 401,000