The Legislature has agreed to budget $100 million for a storage reservoir north of Lake Okeechobee.
After years of focus on reservoirs to the south of Lake Okeechobee, Senate President Wilton Simpson for the past two years has pushed for greater funding for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project to the north.
Sen. Ben Albritton last week identified northern storage as one of the top things that still needed to be completed.
“I’m thrilled to see further, robust investment in the project,” Albritton said. “Northern storage is a smart idea, period.”
Ahead of Session, Albritton stressed a need to improve the level of water supply to the north. That’s been critical for local agriculture, an important industry to both Simpson and Albritton as professional farmers. That’s also important to residents in lakeside communities to the north of the lake.
At the same time, environmental advocates have expressed concerns about anything focusing on guaranteeing water for sugar farmers during times of drought.
The push generated some tension this year between the Senate and Gov. Ron DeSantis out of concerns of diverting funding from a key Everglades project that’s been tied to federal funding withheld this year. But much of that was resolved with an amendment to a water bill, and much of the appropriations side was left to budget negotiations.
Now the budget gives $100 million in general appropriations, but makes it contingent on receipt of coronavirus state fiscal recovery funds from the federal government.
The promise of federal dollars has allowed much greater allocation of financial resources with the state this year.
In addition to the reservoir funding, lawmakers earmarked a handful of other projects for fiscal recovery funds Wednesday evening. They include $358 million for land buys, $200 million for a fuel tax holiday and $115 million for Capitol complex renovations.
The House and Senate also released their “sprinkle lists” Wednesday, which detail an additional $759 million for local projects, such as infrastructure, springs restoration, health care programs and pay raises.