U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds met this week with the Army Corps of Engineers on management of Lake Okeechobee. As plans for regulation of water discharges from the Lake move ahead, he feels confident Southwest Florida will be better off than under a prior plan.
But the Naples Republican warns there’s likely not a way to completely block blue-green algae from the lake being discharged into local waterways. The Army Corps of Engineers in July released an update on the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual.
“One of the things I’m always trying to explain to everybody here is that we are going to get water,” he said.
“I know people in Southwest Florida, we say we shouldn’t get any water from Lake Okeechobee. That is not realistic. It is not ecologically sound. We need water coming down the Caloosahatchee. We are going to take water coming down the Caloosahatchee. The question is whether the high-end flows are going to be hurtful and harmful to our coasts.”
Donalds spoke at length with media about the future of water management, and promised the Florida congressional delegation would continue to work in a bipartisan fashion on advocating the needs of communities in the state. Representing an area that in 2018 felt savaged by blue-green algal blooms contaminating the waterways and even the air, Donalds said he has watched the process closely.
While the local waters won’t completely evade discharges under the new plan, Donalds said releases should not be prolonged problems as in the past. The Army Corps of Engineers after 2018 largely stopped scheduled discharges amid public outrage, and the new plan codifies the extent agency leaders can use their discretion, Donalds said.
But he still will bring questions to the Army Corps and scrutinize the execution of the plan.
Modeling from the Army Corps shows the region could see as many as 18 days of discharges in a year at worst. “Is that 18 consecutive days?” Donalds said. “Statistically that doesn’t sound accurate at all.”
But overall, he said the region will be much better off under the new LOSOM plan.
He also discussed federal funding for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Donalds last year stood with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio demanding more funding when President Joe Biden failed to budget dollars for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.
Asked if thinks the administration will provide funding in the future, Donalds expressed some uncertainty but little optimism.
“I was actually surprised that the administration was not as forthcoming with funding for Everglades restoration projects as the previous administration was. I was actually quite shocked,” he said. “Listening to some of the rhetoric around the environment from the administration, I thought that they will be far more focused into funding that and they just simply have not.”
He points to environmental funding signed into law by Biden as part of the Inflation Reduction Act as a signal on where priorities stand.
“With the administration, their view is what matters more is some of the environmental policies around climate change, not waterways funding and so forth,” he said. “If you examine the funding that has come out of the administration and the bills that have moved through Congress for the President’s signature, that’s where the bulk of the focus has been.”
Donalds also discussed the future of cryptocurrency, the need for Republicans to regain a majority in the House and the benefits of restructuring some of the federal bureaucracy from scratch.
He also advocated for nuclear power, which he said holds the potential to solve environmental issues in a genuinely environmentally positive way.
“You’re producing cheap, affordable, and for people who are concerned about climate change, no-emission or extremely low-emission energy in the United States,” he said. “This is huge for us.”
Until then, he expressed skepticism about other alternative energy supplies like wind and solar, and said a Republican majority in the House likely will push for greater oil exploration to keep petroleum products supplied and American energy independent.
But he said allowing more oil drilling does not mean opening the Gulf of Mexico up to oil businesses.
“On our shelf it’s pretty much understood that the people of Florida and the elected officials in Florida have no interest in drilling oil off the coast,” he said.