The Senate gave its unanimous approval Wednesday to a measure further implementing the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) north of Lake Okeechobee.
Senate President Wilton Simpson has made the reservoir construction project a priority. On Wednesday, the Senate approved a measure (SB 2516) aiming to expedite the process. That bill was approved as a conforming bill linked to the overall budget bill (SB 2500).
“In recent years, Florida’s Legislature has appropriated unprecedented funding to address environmental restoration,” Simpson said in a statement after the Senate’s approval.
“Collaborative efforts between the state and federal government successfully expedited the beginning phases of construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Now it is time to build on this momentum by focusing on projects north of the lake.”
Simpson added, “I am grateful to my Senate colleagues for approaching solutions north of the lake with the same vigor we had for southern storage. Implementation of the LOWRP is the most important element of restoration for the northern Everglades ecosystem, as approximately 95% of the water, 92% of the phosphorus, and 89% of the nitrogen flowing into Lake Okeechobee comes from north of the lake.”
Since Gov. Ron DeSantis came into office, he and the Legislature have pushed to make progress on storage projects south of the lake. In a February letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Simpson argued that state-level support put those construction efforts on track for completion, allowing an increased concentration on the lake’s north side.
That earned some pushback, even from Simpson’s fellow Republicans. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast accused Simpson of “pitting north versus south” and expressed concern those southern projects would be left behind.
The measure initially provides a $50 million annual funding bucket for LOWRP. That money will come from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
Simpson’s proposal directs the South Florida Water Management District to work with the Army Corps to move LOWRP along.
“Upon the effective date of this act, the district shall request that the corps seek congressional approval of a project implementation report for LOWRP before passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022,” the bill states.
After congressional approval, the district and Army Corps must then set up a project partnership agreement for the effort.