Senate bill revives fight over Lake O water, draws fishing industry ire
Ben Albritton is taking the Senate presidency in 2024.

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'This will jeopardize not only our lives but many lives in South Florida.'

Alarmed at a measure they believe changes the management of water in and around Lake Okeechobee, dozens of fishermen and women from South Florida traveled to Tallahassee Wednesday to tell senators to drop the bill.

“This will jeopardize not only our lives but many lives in South Florida, including hotels, restaurants — many, many businesses,” said Capt. Steve Friedman, an Islamorada fishing guide. “This goes far beyond just a few fishing guys might not be able to catch as many fish.”

The bill (SB 2508) requires the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to make recommendations to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that controls releases from Lake Okeechobee, that don’t reduce the amount of water available to “existing legal users.”

Scores of fishing guides, environmental advocates and small business owners who spoke to the Senate Appropriations Committee suggested the provision is intended to protect sugar farmers with land south of Lake Okeechobee. Other provisions would ensure the agriculture industry gets the water it needs when Lake Okeechobee’s water levels drop.

When excess polluted water is released on either side of the lake into waterways on both sides of the state, it can lead to large algal blooms. In the last decade, those blooms spurred mass-scale fish and sea life kills, fouling waterways and dampening outdoor tourism all over the state.

Finding a way to release water into the Everglades, too, is key to preventing the pollution. The Legislature passed a bill in 2017 aimed at preventing this, and putting money toward the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, a key project to help store water from the lake to prevent the discharges.

“This bill undermines SB 10 which I think many of y’all voted for,” said Capt. Daniel Andrews, executive director of Captains for Clean Water, a group of fishing guides advocating for clean water. “These discharges have destroyed our economy, destroyed our way of life. And it needs to be fixed.”

But Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican and sponsor of the bill, said most people who spoke against the bill didn’t understand it, and he’s only asking for greater “accountability” from the SFWMD to follow existing policies and laws.

“I believe you’ve been misled,” Albritton said. “I believe that asking for more accountability from an agency that receives 70% of their budget from the state is good government.”

Another point of contention is a provision that removes dedicated funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir to allow funding to go to that project as well as three others: the Lake Okeechobee Watershed project, the C-43 West Basin Reservoir Storage project and the Indian River Lagoon-South project.

Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, said opponents worried about cuts to the EAA reservoir were confused by the language of the bill and noted the other projects will still help increase storage of water so that discharges of polluted water aren’t necessary.

Some senators took issue with Chauncey Goss, chair of the SFWMD, who expressed “concerns” with the bill but didn’t specify what areas needed to be changed.

“What section of the bill do you want taken out, removed or amended?” Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, asked. “What section of the bill gives you concern?”

“I don’t want to negotiate the bill with you right here,” Goss said.

Despite the objections, the bill passed on a bipartisan 16-4 vote. Sens. Pizzo, Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Randolph Bracy and Linda Stewart, both Orlando Democrats, cast the no votes.

Many of the speakers opposed to the bill said they were caught off guard, since the bill was only published Friday. It’s a budget conforming bill, which means Wednesday is the only chance for public input on the measure.

The bill is now part of the slate of budget measures that will be included in negotiations between the House and Senate over the final spending plan.

Gray Rohrer


  • tom palmer

    February 9, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    This is the bill Albritton mentioned earlier this session that would enshrine “water rights,” which can be a dangerous paradigm shift in eastern water law.

    • George E. Layton

      February 9, 2022 at 7:59 pm

      Only FOUR people voted with a conscience, the others didn’t take time to do their job and/or a just palms out, bunch of greedy scum bags !! ( imho )

  • Anthony Roncaioli

    February 9, 2022 at 9:48 pm

    its time to go straight to the Governor again he stepped up once increasing commitment to cleaning our waterways now its time for him to speak up again.
    Maybe its time for us to standup to irresponsible government like the Canadian truckers did and flood the capital with concerned citizens.

  • Soupy Sal

    February 10, 2022 at 9:57 am

    The Governor will step in and put Albritton to task.

  • Tom

    February 14, 2022 at 11:07 am

    America’s Gov will not sign it to the detriment of costal waterways in which he has been extra committed to. Gov Ron is the very best Gov in Florida history on environment. For a Repub. he’s the greatest since Teddy Roosevelt.

  • Laura

    February 16, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    Directly from Senator Albritton’s guest opinion in The News-Press from August
    “If the Corps successfully eliminates or reduces Zone F, we can expect the federal government to violate the very rules our state has put in place to protect the health of Lake Okeechobee. The unnecessary discharges would be a complete waste of our precious water resources, impose harm on the lake’s sensitive ecosystem and deprive residents and businesses from needed water supply.
    It is time for people to put their selfish interests aside. This is not a reason to pound chests. This is not a campaign to raise money from. This is about the future of Florida. We must make Florida our top priority.” ………and Big Sugar is at it again!

Comments are closed.


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