A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate would reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and increase water storage capacity.
Senate Bill 10, filed by Republican Rob Bradley, would bond money backed with Amendment 1 funds to purchase land south of the lake for water storage.
Bradley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. notes that “current projects fail to include one significant component that the majority of scientists and experts uniformly agree on – a long-term solution requires additional land and storage south of Lake Okeechobee.”
“This legislation implements the constitution by using Amendment 1 funds, funds Florida voters dedicated to improving our environment, to address a critical and ongoing problem that impacts our residents, visitors, business, economy and quality of life,” Bradley adds.
The Bradley bill adds a new section to the Florida Statute: “Reservoir project in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” with the hope of creating 360,000 acre-feet of storage capacity, a goal that requires acquiring 60,000 acres of land.
$1.2 billion in bond proceeds would be used for the purchase of the land. The project is subject to congressional approval, and if that is granted as expected, the feds would offer a 50/50 match of that $1.2 billion.
The section declares an “emergency” in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, due to “harmful freshwater discharges” east and west of the lake that have created algae blooms and other issues.
Senate President Joe Negron has prioritized these efforts to mitigate the issues with Lake Okeechobee, as they present real public safety impacts for his constituents.
“Despite the sincere efforts of our state and federal government to plan and fund long-term solutions to address rising water levels and pollution in Lake Okeechobee, year after year as the Lake levels rise, the solution is to flood my community and many others across our state with billions of gallons of polluted water that destroys our estuaries and harms our local economies,” said President Negron.
“For nearly two decades, there has been scientific consensus and recognition by state leaders that additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is necessary to stop this ongoing problem; from Governor Jeb Bush‘s historic support of the bipartisan Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in 2000; to the recent University of Florida Water Institute study commissioned by the Senate and completed in 2015,” continued President Negron. “This legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague on our communities in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners.”
Support for this bill came almost immediately from the Everglades Foundation.
“We thank Senator Bradley for recognizing that a water crisis anywhere in Florida is a water crisis and filing this important legislation. Coastal communities were under a state of emergency for 242 days in 2016 as a result of Lake Okeechobee discharges.” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a press release Thursday morning.
“The creation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan nearly two decades ago recognized the great need for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area in order to reduce the harmful discharges to the estuaries and to preserve water for when it’s desperately needed during the dry seasons.”
“Senator Bradley’s filing of SB 10 today moves us closer to having this critical water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that will be cost-matched by the federal government, and we applaud him for taking action to respond to Florida’s water crisis this legislative session,” Eikenberg added.
While there is some resistance to a measure like this from North Florida advocates who think the region isn’t getting its share, the fact is that SB 10 is not Bradley’s only water bill this session.
Senate Bill 234 would annually earmark $35 million, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries, and the Keystone Lake region.
Included among those projects: land management and acquisition, and recreational opportunity and public access improvements.
As well, septic tank phaseout — a priority of many local governments — may fall under SB 234’s aegis.