Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation to advance construction of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) north of Lake Okeechobee.
DeSantis signed the legislation just one day after the bill hit his desk. Senate President Wilton Simpson prioritized the bill (SB 2516) last Session. The Legislature tacked on the measure as a conforming bill linked to the larger budget bill (SB 2500).
The state will now set aside $50 million annually for the project by using money in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The bill also directs the South Florida Water Management District to work with the Army Corps to make progress on LOWRP.
“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.
“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.”
DeSantis has prioritized reservoir projects around Lake O and the Everglades since taking office in 2019. However, the Governor and Legislature mostly focused on projects south of Lake Okeechobee during DeSantis’ first two years.
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 that those southern projects would be left behind.
Simpson, however, saw it differently in remarks released after the bill’s passage.
“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,” he said.