Senate Passes Plan to Reduce Harmful Discharges from Lake Okeechobee

Apr 17 • 342 Views • View Comments

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Legislation Authorizes Major Expansion of Southern Storage

The Florida Senate today passed Senate Bill 10, Water Resources, by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island). The legislation authorizes a significant increase in southern water storage to further the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee, a priority of Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart).

“For too long toxic blue-green algae has been harming the health of both our citizens and our economy. This legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague in a manner that benefits communities across South Florida,” said President Negron. “Senate Bill 10 will make an important difference to families, communities, and the economy east and west of the Lake, as well as southern communities that have waited too long for additional investments in meaningful economic development to expand workforce training and job opportunities.”

“Our goal was to explore all available options to deliver this much-needed and long-anticipated storage south of Lake Okeechobee,” said Senator Bradley. “These algal blooms have occurred before and will occur again unless high volume discharges from Lake Okeechobee are stopped and pollution in the Lake Okeechobee basin is abated. Algal blooms are not simply an unsightly nuisance for residents and tourists. They bring real health risks to humans and wildlife and result in severe economic damage to local businesses.”

Senate Bill 10 expressly prohibits the use of eminent domain, leveraging land already owned by the State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), land swaps, and purchases, to minimize impacts on agricultural workers while achieving 240,000 to 360,000 acre feet of storage. The legislation also provides grants to establish training programs for agricultural workers.

“I promised my constituents that we would dramatically expand southern storage by leveraging existing water infrastructure, and utilizing a combination of state, local, and private land, in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners. After twenty years of talking about southern storage, this legislation establishes a concrete plan to achieve this critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in a reasonable amount of time,” continued President Negron.

“Nearly half way through the original timeline of CERP, less than 20 percent of the estimated total cost has been funded. It is time to invest in additional projects needed to complete the plan and that is exactly what the voters have been trying to tell us in passing Amendment 1,” continued Senator Bradley. “This legislation demonstrations fidelity to the Constitution by using Amendment 1 funds, the very funds Florida voters dedicated to improving our environment, to address a critical and ongoing problem that impacts our residents, visitors, business, economy and quality of life.”

Senate Bill 10, Water Resources

•            Requires the SFWMD to develop a plan to provide a minimum of 240,000 acre-feet of storage through a deep storage reservoir and water quality treatment features, using the A-2 parcel, land swaps, and purchases. The district may consider alternate configurations using the A-1 parcel if a minimum of 360,000 acre-feet of additional storage can be achieved (60,000 acre-feet currently provided by A-1 FEB).

•            Requires the SFWMD to use DMSTA2 modeling to determine the amount of acreage needed in order to meet water quality standards.

o            Directs the SFWMD to negotiate modifications of lease terms on state and district owned lands to make land available for the reservoir project.

o            Directs SFWMD to negotiate for the acquisition of privately-owned property, if needed for the reservoir project, through purchase or land swap.

o            The bill terminates the current PRIDE work programs, on state owned land using inmate labor for agricultural work, in light of the high unemployment rate in the EAA for these types of jobs. This land would then be available to swap for any privately-owned land needed for the reservoir project, further minimizing any impact on agricultural workers in the EAA.

•            Establishes a number of timelines for achieving milestones for approval of the post authorization change report and requires reporting to the Legislature.

•            Moves up the date for the EAA reservoir project planning study to commence if the post-authorization report is not submitted for Congressional approval, or Congressional approval is not obtained in accordance with the time frames in the bill.

•            Clarifies that ongoing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects will continue to receive funding.

•            Authorizes the district to begin planning and discussion with the owners of the C-51 Reservoir project to determine if the state should acquire or enter into a public private partnership for this water storage facility that will add approximately 60,000 acre feet of storage south of the Lake.

•            Establishes the Everglades Restoration Agricultural Community Training Program in DEO for the purpose of stimulating and supporting training and employment programs, to match state and local training programs with identified job skills associated with non-agricultural employment opportunities in areas of high agricultural unemployment.  The bill expresses the Legislature’s intent to promote the implementation of the Airglades Airport in Hendry County and an inland port in Palm Beach County to create job opportunities in areas of high agricultural unemployment.

•            Establishes a revolving loan fund to provide funding assistance to local governments and water supply entities for the development and construction of water storage facilities.

•            Revises the uses of the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund to include the water storage facility revolving loan program.

•            Provides funding for the reservoir projects, including an authorization to bond funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF). The total cost is approximately $1.5 billion, half of which could be paid by the federal government. The bill includes an appropriation of $64 million from the LATF for the 2017-18 Fiscal Year.

•            Allows for funds not spent on the reservoir projects to be used for other Everglades Restoration projects as provided in Legacy Florida.

Background:

Record rainfall this past year resulted in unseasonably high water levels in Lake Okeechobee, which threatened the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike. To maintain safe water levels, the Army Corps of Engineers authorized the release of billions of gallons of water from the Lake to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Such freshwater discharges cause significant environmental damage by lowering the salinity levels of the estuaries and introducing pollutants into coastal waters. Due to the discharges this summer, massive amounts of toxic algae that originated in Lake Okeechobee were sent to the estuaries and coastal waterways.

As a result of the high volume discharges, coastal communities experienced enormous harmful algal blooms with devastating impacts not only to the ecology of local waterways, but also to residents, fishermen, and local businesses. The extent and severity of the blooms resulted in Governor Scott declaring a state of emergency in four Florida counties.

For more information, please visit www.FLSenate.gov.

 

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