Representatives from the South Florida “16 County Coalition” will travel to Washington Thursday to meet with members of Congress regarding the funding status of various water infrastructure projects in the region.
The coalition is made up of representatives from Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceloa, Palm Beach, Polk and St. Lucie counties.
Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner, a member of the coalition, said his goal is trying to secure guaranteed federal funding for several projects going forward.
He says he’s optimistic.
“We’ve had a handful of good conversations with different leaders and I think that there is some movement,” Turner said. “Not to mention, there’s a huge economic development aspect to this whole conversation with regards to job creation.”
Among the projects the coalition supports are the Herbert Hoover rehabilitation project, Kissimmee River Restoration and the C-23, C-24, C-25 and C-44 projects in Indian River Lagoon-South.
“If our federal partners hear from us that we’re all wanting to see this move, directly, I think then it gets more fuel to the fire to get them to understand,” Turner said.
“There’s no sprint here — this is a marathon all the way. And so what we’re talking about is our ability to be able to see these projects through to completion so that we’re able to add to the pieces of the puzzle of water quality, water quantity, timing and distribution.”
A meeting of the Florida congressional delegation earlier this year also yielded discussion regarding the effort by the Army Corps of Engineers to review and revise the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which dictates the water levels of the lake.
Currently, the lake is typically kept between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.
Army Corps officials are still determining the range for those levels to be set in the future. With upgrades being made to the Herbert Hoover Dike, it’s possible that Lake Okeechobee water levels could be raised in an effort to reduce the frequency of harmful discharges. But others, such as GOP U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, have pushed for the lake’s levels to be lowered.
Turner argued flexibility is needed.
“If you start getting into a 10-foot lake, 10.5-foot lake, and then you are unfortunately hit with a drought, well now you run the risk of having a situation where the lake is incapable of recovering. And there are so many different aspects, from consumptive use permits to water utilities that depend on that lake as a drinking source or a source of their ability to have an income that it’s a major issue.”
Ultimately, Turner said that science should dictate where those water levels should be.
“With us being a bipartisan group and talking to a bipartisan caucus up here, we want to always make sure that science is the basis of any decision that’s being made.”
Turner and the coalition are also pushing the feds to approve an updated Water Resources Development Act, which provides funding for various ecosystem restoration projects. A version was last approved in 2018. The coalition is pushing for a version to be approved every two years.