Lead negotiators in the Senate and House have agreed to a budget provision slotting $50 million to help implement the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) north of Lake Okeechobee. The project is a priority for Senate President Wilton Simpson.
In early April, the Senate approved a measure (SB 2516) as a conforming bill linked to the overall budget bill (SB 2500). Now, the House has agreed to that provision, allocating $50 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to help expedite construction of storage capacity north of Lake O.
Simpson and other supporters say the storage will help trap water containing nutrients, which can cause algae blooms. Those blooms sometimes enter other waterways when water is released from Lake O to control the lake’s levels. By capturing those nutrients before they reach Lake O, advocates hope to cut down on those blooms.
The stored water can also serve as a source for nearby farmers and utilities. Simpson earned much of his fortune as an egg farmer.
“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 said in a statement after the Senate approved the money earlier this month.
“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.”
The House and Senate are slated to vote on the final budget at the end of this week.
Since Gov. Ron DeSantis came into office, he and the Legislature have pushed for 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.
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.