Discussion heats up at SFWMD meeting in response to Brian Mast push for delay of Lake O restoration project

lake o
Mast wants the SFWMD to focus on the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast is pushing the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to delay a restoration project north of Lake Okeechobee in favor of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir Project.

Mast is voicing concern regarding the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. That restoration is aimed at increasing water storage north of the lake and reducing discharges that can spread toxic blue-green algae.

But Mast — whose district covers areas east of Lake O — wants that project put on the back burner for now.

“While I am a strong supporter of additional storage capacity north of Lake Okeechobee, I am concerned that authorizing this project now could jeopardize timely completion of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir Project, which provides far greater benefits to reduce harmful discharges and restore the Everglades,” Mast wrote in a letter to SFWMD Drew Bartlett.

The process to plan for construction of the EAA reservoir has begun, and was expedited by the termination of a lease previously held by the Florida Crystals Corporation.

That lease covered lands slated to be used for the reservoir. But Mast argues the project isn’t advancing fast enough.

That position is being challenged by Nyla Pipes, director of the One Florida Foundation. Pipes spoke out against the request at Thursday’s SFWMD meeting and talked to Florida Politics about her position.

“This is the first time — in the just shy of a decade that I’ve been involved in this conversation — that I’ve ever seen somebody say, ‘Don’t approve an Everglades Restoration Project,'” Pipes said.

“We have an integrated delivery schedule which is supposed to help us prioritize how all these projects work together. And it’s general knowledge that these projects all support each other.”

Pipes praised the EAA Reservoir and said she’s looking forward to its completion. “Any and all storage that we create within the system is good.”

But she argued that the watershed project north of the lake will do more to help reduce discharges — a focus of Mast’s during his time in Congress — than the EAA project.

“Basically, what [the EAA Reservoir] is meant to do is make sure that there is water to meter out into the agricultural areas, the urban areas and of course the natural systems south of the lake so that we don’t have to continue to use to use Lake Okeechobee as a reservoir,” Pipes said.

“So it’s an important project. But it is not primarily designed, nor has it ever been primarily designed, to stop discharges.”

While it may not be the primary use of the EAA Reservoir, the project will help reduce the need for discharges to an extent by helping store water that could otherwise be kept in Lake O. The lower the lake — even to a small extent — the less of a need to discharge to prevent dangerously high lake levels.

The EAA Reservoir will also aim to help stop the spread of blue-green algae from the lake by preventing that water from reaching other waterways.

Last Session, the state allocated $50 million to help with the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. Advocates see the project as vital due to the amount of water entering the lake from that area.

“In fact, 95% of the water that’s coming into the lake is coming from the north,” said Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner back in April.

“The water quality and the water quantity are killing the lake.”

Pipes echoed those concerns.

“If you don’t store [water] and treat it before it gets to the lake, then you’re left dealing with it on the southern end.”

Pipes’ group was formed in in 2014, and is based in St. Lucie County — an area covered by Mast’s district. She said she wants to push the Congressman to support the entirety of the Everglades restoration plan, rather than pick and choose.

“We have to do them all. Trying to pick one and say, ‘Absolutely don’t work on another because we’re concerned about money,’ it’s just never been the way that Everglades restoration works. And we will never get where we need to be if we begin to work that way.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


7 comments

  • Mike Downing

    December 13, 2019 at 9:51 am

    This article underscores the problem that the SFWMD is faced with. Rep. Brian Mast is the practical realist and Nyla Pipes is the unrealistic optimist. This article and Nyla is silent on the multiple delays in CERP due to a lack of funding, lack of people and a lack of prioritization. Nyla and others who have never had responsibility for managing highly complex and costly projects or companies do not understand that projects and companies are delayed or fail due to a lack of prioritization and a lack of funds. Yes, a Northern reservoir is a good idea but not at the expense of existing CERP projects.

    • Paul Slonaker

      December 13, 2019 at 1:53 pm

      100% disagree, It is very selfish of Rep Brian Mast to expedite the projected reservoir south of the Lake when the project that ensures clean water is flowing into the lake is put on a back burner. This essentially is putting the cart before the horse. Go out and see Lake Okeechobee, I grew up on the lake and still fish it frequently, it’s not the same as it was years ago. This is because of mismanagement and poor planning. The Kissimmee River valley is vital to the health of Lake Okeechobee. Complete the project as planned. We can’t be selfish at this point. The entire Everglades ecosystem is more important than a few voters or big money donors.

  • Richard Trotta

    December 13, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Who is Nyla Pipes? She was groomed as an actress in the Pacific Northwest. As a recent transplant to southern end of this peninsula she seems to find her way into the press as some sort of expert. Her expertise seems to be dispersing Big Sugar’s talking points to the unwitting press.

  • Gary Jones

    December 13, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    How can anyone in good conscience tell the water district to stop the projects that will prevent more phosphorous and nitrogen from running into the lake? When that is whats killing the lake, the fishing and the tourism related to it? This is idiotic. I guess I miss the logic here. There is obviously something else going on here.

  • Doc Snook

    December 13, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Brian has this one nailed right on the head. The funds have to be there to finish the project. To many times a project has started just to have the funds run out. Finish the res. south of the lake then do the project north of the lake……!

  • Harry McVay

    December 13, 2019 at 3:45 pm

    Who is Harry McVay…a 72yr Floridian keen on the environment by scrutenEYEzing FL’s flora & fauna with a love* that surpasses all knowledge. If the the powers to be for ‘MAN’agement are not sending the water south to the Everglades & getting a route to do that, then squandering the funds for that ‘1st priority’ in the beginning to restore Everglades is the current direction. Look at the Google Earth, Map, GPS of the area of concern & it is apparent that the T-square, triangle & graph paper on a drafting table from the engineers & developers minds influenced the lay of the land. Most all water controlling designs are to efficiently drain from gutter, ditch, canal & river. Eliminating the ‘natural meandering’ for the sake of the ‘straightening rule’ method of routing water.
    I recently talked with Congressman Mast & voiced my opinion against a very damaging ‘prescribed fire burning’ program. His concern was in water pollutants especially nitrogen & phosphorus(fertilizers) where as i see herbicides & pesticides as killing agents – the real pollutants, as fertilizers further excellerate plant growth. which is natures way of filtering & slowing down water for a longer state of being fresh water instead of salt water.. His concern is for ‘clean water’. He campaigned with “Can my children swim in it?”. Not a bad vote-getter slogan, aye!.
    Remembering the ‘Working Girl’ and the way the main character ‘Tess’ got her insight for her boss’s investment, consider this recent observation. PINK ring around your toilet bowl?!. Had it for years. Recent concern for health i decided to ingest pro-biotics. Some brands offer 10-45 bacteria cultures to better balance your belly. Can you imagine introducing into our water system 100’s of new, unknown bacteria. Well days later i had a BLUE ring around toilet bowl.
    *Love, from Bible scripture that basically says the ‘love of believing in Christ’ gives one the access to the Holy Spirit… the mind of the Creator. How about that compared to any online source.

  • Doug

    December 13, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    Brian Mast is on the Mark.

Comments are closed.


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