Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) today filed an amendment to Senate Bill 10, Water Resources, which furthers the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee. The legislation continues to prohibit 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 amendment 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,” said Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart). “This legislation will ensure we achieve that goal and provide measureable results in a reasonable amount of time.”
“We have incorporated the feedback gained from months of conversations with the agricultural community, scientists, business owners, community advocates, and others to develop a meaningful solution to address the plague of harmful, polluted discharges, while at the same time taking steps to improve the economic circumstances of our fellow citizens who live in communities south of the Lake,” said Senator Bradley.
“The status quo is not acceptable for anyone. The harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee are causing horrible impacts to the health of both our citizens and our economy East and West of the Lake. Meanwhile, communities like Pahokee, Belle Glade, and South Bay are facing extremely high levels of unemployment, while a great many families are living in poverty,” continued President Negron. “Strategic southern storage addresses the environmental and economic challenges facing communities, families, and businesses on all sides of the Lake.”
The Strike-All Amendment to SB 10/PCS 601444 does the following:
- Revises the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project to require 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.
- Directs the SFWMD to negotiate modifications of lease terms on state and district owned lands to make land available for the reservoir project.
- Directs SFWMD to negotiate for the acquisition of privately owned property if needed for the reservoir project through purchase or land swap.
- 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 Congressional approval of the post-authorization change report has not occurred.
- 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 reduced from $2.4 billion to approximately $1.5 billion, half of which could be paid by the federal government. The amendment 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.
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.
The amendment will be considered at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5, when Senate Bill 10 is heard in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.