The Florida Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 2516, Water Storage North of Lake Okeechobee. A conforming bill linked to Senate Bill 2500, the General Appropriations Act, the legislation provides the policy framework and funding for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), to expedite implementation of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP).
“In recent years, Florida’s Legislature has appropriated unprecedented funding to address environmental restoration. Collaborative efforts between the state and federal government successfully expedited the beginning phases of construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Now it is time to build on this momentum by focusing on projects north of the lake,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby). “I am grateful to my Senate colleagues for approaching solutions north of the lake with the same vigor we had for southern storage. Implementation of the LOWRP is the most important element of restoration for the northern Everglades ecosystem, as approximately 95 percent of the water, 92 percent of the phosphorus, and 89 percent of the nitrogen flowing into Lake Okeechobee comes from north of the lake.”
The LOWRP is a project in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that provides water storage north of Lake Okeechobee. The northern storage the LOWRP provides will be used to help keep lake levels from rising too high in the wet season and make water available for release in the dry season. This creates the operational flexibility necessary to help maintain lake levels that are ideal for the lake’s ecology and helps ensure adequate water supply for users around the lake.
SB 2516 requires the SFWMD to request that the USACE seek expedited congressional approval of the LOWRP and execute a project partnership agreement with the USACE immediately following approval. The bill also requires expedited implementation of the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) Science Plan developed by the SFWMD and the USACE, and expedited implementation of the watershed ASR feature of the LOWRP.
To ensure health and safety, technical feasibility, and achievement of environmental benefits, the bill requires that the implementation of the LOWRP ASR wells use a phased approach that confirms feasibility and site suitability and addresses uncertainties identified in the ASR Science Plan.
The bill amends section 375.041, Florida Statutes, to provide a $50 million annual appropriation from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to the SFWMD for the LOWRP. $100 million has been appropriated for the LOWRP over the past two fiscal years.