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City breaks ground for Caloosahatchee Connect

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Mar 23, 2023

Various officials break ground for the Cape Coral link of Caloosahatchee Connect, a $22 million project that will bring irrigation water to the city via a pipeline underneath the Caloosahatchee./Chuck Ballaro

It was more than 12 years in the making. On Thursday, it officially became a reality.

The city of Cape Coral broke ground on Caloosahatchee Connect, a $22 million project that will bring irrigation and fire-service water to the city via 7,630 feet of pipeline underneath the Caloosahatchee River, the largest such project in the world upon completion.

City dignitaries and representatives as well as those from the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and members of the project team came to Horton Park to witness the event.

“A groundbreaking describes something that’s innovative and pioneering. The Caloosahatchee Connect is an innovative concept and the end result will allow Cape Coral to utilize unused reclaimed water from Fort Myers for fire and irrigation purposes,” said Melissa Mickey, city spokesperson.

Chauncey Goss, chairman of the SFWMD, said projects like this are exactly what we should be doing.

“Seeing this puts a smile on my face, and over the last six months this area needs more smiles,” Goss said. “This is going to improve the water quality in the Caloosahatchee, to make things better for the state. We’re doing it incrementally. This isn’t a light switch you can turn on and off. It’s a marathon, and marathons are hard.”

Jennifer Carpenter, of the FDEP, said the project got the blessing of her 8-year-old son as they drove over the river Thursday morning.

“He said ‘What a great idea,’ and it really is a great idea, even an 8-year-old knows that,” Carpenter said. “The Caloosahatchee and the estuary are considered the heart of this community, our world-class recreational and commercial fisheries are because of the Caloosahatchee and the fresh water it brings.”

Mayor John Gunter said the city decided to think big on this project, then backed it up by making something that will be a game-changer for the city.

“It’s taken us 12 years to get to this point. There are a few projects that really stand out as transformational, and this is one of them,” Gunter said. “There are some people who talk the talk and then there are people who walk the walk. This project is an example of walking the walk.”

The Caloosahatchee Connect Project is a large reclaimed water pipeline the city is constructing between Cape Coral and Fort Myers that will provide up to 12 million gallons per day (1.2 billion per year) of additional irrigation and fire protection services water to residents.

The city will utilize Horizontal Directional Drilling to install pipe underneath the Caloosahatchee River while Fort Myers will utilize microtunneling to install a portion of the reclaimed water main underneath busy intersections along the pipeline route.

The city will construct a reclaimed water transmission main from the Everest water reclamation facility to a connection point in Fort Myers near the Midpoint Bridge at Horton Park.

The project, which is estimated to cost $22 million, with $13 million paid for via grants, is expected to be completed by February 2024.

The effort to make this a reality began in 2011, Utilities Director Jeff Pearson said as the city was growing and the need for irrigation water was becoming more acute.

Pearson said this project, as well as diversification and storage, will do just that and more.

“Over the years as our population grows, it will be important that everyone continues to work together, cities, governments, authorities, to make projects like this happen and make sure we get water where we need it the most,” Pearson said. “I have never seen a reclaimed water interconnect going under a river. It’s a very unique project, it’s transformational and I’m humbled and privileged to be part of it.”

Cape Coral and Fort Myers entered into an interlocal agreement to construct the pipeline in 2018, giving the city a source for water it needs and Fort Myers a way to dispose of its treated wastewater in a way that is more environmentally friendly than discharging it into the river.

The agreement allows Cape Coral to purchase the reclaimed water that Fort Myers that would otherwise discharge. This project will prevent more than 50 tons of pollutants from entering the river and going downstream, Pearson said.