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Senate Bill 10 filed; would authorize funding and directive for southern flow-way.
Advocates for clean water and healthy coastal fisheries are aligning quickly to voice support for Florida Senate Bill 10. The bill, filed Thursday, January 26, by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), directs state water managers to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee from a willing seller and begin constructing there a reservoir to hold 120 billion gallons of water. Essentially, if approved, the bill would set into motion a crucial piece of Everglades restoration conceptualized 16 years ago, supported by scientists and long sought by environmentalists.
Proponents say the reservoir, envisioned at 60,000 acres, will add nearly ten-fold to ongoing efforts to curtail a cycle of freshwater discharges to the St. Lucie, Indian River and Caloosahatchee estuaries. At the same time, the reservoir would serve to refresh historical water supply needs for Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and South Florida’s growing municipal demand. At present, high water events on Lake Okeechobee, as followed last winter’s record rainfall, trigger the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release excess, untreated water rapidly seaward via flood-control canals etched into the state as many as 80 years ago. The releases not only disrupt estuarine conditions necessary for seagrasses, oysters and other organisms, but frequently transport toxic algal blooms apparently fueled by nutrient levels on Lake Okeechobee. The summer of 2016, for instance, saw massive blue-green algae mats on waterways around Palm City, Stuart and Jensen Beach. Governor Rick Scott called for a state of emergency as local residents were warned to stay away from popular fishing and swimming areas.
According to reporting by TC Palm, the bill, which has the backing of Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), would set a Dec. 31, 2017, deadline for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to find a willing land seller. If unable to do so, the District would then be directed to acquire at least 60,000 acres by way of a stalled option agreement signed in 2010 by landowner U.S. Sugar Corp. Sugar corporations owning huge swaths of arable, muck-soil land adjacent to and south of Lake Okeechobee, in the Everglades Agricultural Area, or EAA, have long benefited from an artificially managed water table.
Estimated cost for the reservoir project is $2.4 billion. Senators Bradley, Negron and other supporters anticipate a 50/50 cost share with the federal government, as the reservoir would be a component of existing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects. The Florida portion, $1.2 billion, would be covered by real estate transaction tax revenues secured through the voter-approved Amendment 1-the Water and Land Conservation Amendment.
The announcement of SB10 elicited immediate applause from local estuary champions such as Daniel Andrews and Mike Conner.
“Senator Negron and Bradley’s commitment to Florida’s most valuable resource provides a new sense of hope to the millions of Floridians who depend on the estuaries and Everglades to make a living,” said Andrews, a southwest Florida fishing guide and founder of Captains for Clean Water.
Andrews’ sentiments were mirrored by those of Conner, a southeast Florida fishing guide and Director of Angler Outreach for Bullsugar.org: “The project will greatly decrease discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries and send clean water south to an ailing, hypersaline Florida Bay. There is no downside to getting this done. The Florida Legislature and Governor Scott must quit kicking the can down the road–our fishing-tourist industry will die on the vine without it.”
Tallahassee-based Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller had this to say: “Florida Wildlife Federation is very pleased and encouraged by today’s introduction of Senate President Joe Negron’s legislation. Once acquired and operational the reservoir can significantly reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges … and facilitate further storage, treatment and conveyance of flowing water south through the water conservation areas onwards to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
“People who care about fishing, the Everglades and Florida’s nature-based economy need to get behind this critical legislation,” said Fuller, adding that the “federation is glad to join with other pro-fishing interests in an Anglers Coalition for the Everglades.”
At the opposite end of the Florida peninsula, in Coral Gables, Jim McDuffie, president of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, said, “Bonefish & Tarpon Trust fully supports SB 10 and encourages our anglers and all who care about our fisheries to add their voice to the cause. This important legislation holds the greatest promise of any proposal made to date for restoring a natural flow of water to the Everglades and Florida Bay and reducing damage to our estuaries and coastal communities from Lake Okeechobee discharges.”
Coastal Conservation Association Florida, longtime advocate for sound management of recreational fisheries, echoed to its constituents the announcement of SB10, indicating the group “will continue to work with Florida’s elected officials and other fishery advocacy groups to help advance the critical Everglades and estuary restoration.”
Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, long a proponent of a large scale land buy for a reservoir, told the Miami Herald that the proposal “moves us closer to having this critical water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that will be cost-matched by the federal government, and we applaud [Negron] for taking action to respond to Florida’s water crisis this legislative session.”
“Three estuaries are in peril and there is one solution-send clean water south,” Cara Capp of the Everglades Coalition and National Parks Conservation Association also told the Herald. “The Everglades Coalition calls on all members of the Florida legislature and Governor Rick Scott to support this smart and appropriate bill to tackle one of the biggest threats to our state’s water.”
“What’s largely been untold or ignored in statewide coverage is the number of fishermen and anglers affected by the toxic discharges and lack of freshwater in Florida Bay,” said Florida Sportsman Publisher Blair Wickstrom. “Senator Bradley’s bill is going to be a unifying call to fishing organizations across the state. Let’s mobilize to get this bill passed.”
–Jeff Weakley, Editor