Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s quest to find out what is choking the Little Wekiva River in Seminole County cleared the Appropriations Committee Monday and is headed to the Senate floor.
SB 976 took on a second function Monday as Brodeur used a strike-all amendment to bring it into line with a House bill that’s now on the House floor. The Senate bill still maintains its original purpose: authorizing a multi-agency study to figure out what has caused the Little Wekiva, a beloved Central Florida waterway, to silt up so badly that it has stopped flowing in some places and has flooded out to create new channels in others, and to figure out what to do about it.
Rep. Keith Truenow‘s bill (HB. 727) began with the intent to have the Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Greenways and Trails Council define and recognize wildlife corridors as priorities in the group’s efforts to promote a statewide system of interconnected landscape linkages, conservation corridors, and greenbelts. The bill was amended April 1 to also include the Little Wekiva study.
With Monday’s amendment, the Senate bill now includes the wildlife corridors.
When Brodeur first introduced the bill, he and Little Wekiva preservation advocates raised strong suspicions that the river was being wrecked by sediment runoff from construction the Florida Department of Transportation is overseeing of a $2.3 billion, six-year overhaul of Interstate 4 through greater Orlando. The river runs within a few hundred yards of the construction site, and downstream from that point is where the river is most seriously suffering from siltation and invasive plants.
“We’ve watched what used to be a waist-deep waterbody go to just sediment,” Brodeur said Monday. “I’ve walked it myself last year.”
Since the bill’s filing, the Department of Transportation got more engaged in the concerns. On Monday, Brodeur appeared to back off previous criticisms of the department, when questioned on whether construction debris appeared to be the culprit.
“We think it’s most just fill from the dirt. But during that time there was Hurricane Irma. There are some invasive plant species which are growing so the water bodies are moving differently. So we really do need three or four agencies to look at it and say what’s really happening here,” Brodeur said.
The Little Wekiva River and the Wekiva River have been designated national Wild and Scenic Rivers. They also have special protection designated under the Wekiva Aquatic Preserve.
The Senate bill would require the Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the St. Johns River Water Management District, Seminole County, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of Transportation, to conduct a study and issue a report to identify the sources of the sedimentation and to detail water quality improvements that could be achieved. The bill calls for the report to be due by the end of 2021.
The bill could lead to insignificant costs for the St. Johns River Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection, which could be absorbed though the agency’s current resources.