For a while now Sen. Marco Rubio has shown us he has his toe behind the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Wednesday he did it again, giving Floridians a clear picture of how important his involvement in Everglades restoration is.
The intergovernmental restoration effort is the world’s largest infrastructure project. Think about that for a moment. When complete, it will bring economic and environmental benefit to a region that ranks 13th in the nation in population and economic output.
Faced with so vast and complicated an undertaking, it would have been easy for Rubio to hold off on expounding a judgment Wednesday. But the senator didn't do that. The Everglades, he says, is home turf.
Paying close attention during Wednesday's Washington, D.C. meeting of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, he weighed the discussion of the next steps for Everglades restoration -- and didn't like everything he heard. Mostly, he took issue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to extend the timeline -- or the integrated delivery schedule (IDS) -- for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP).
In other words, Corps officials said they wanted to take more time to get the job done.
So, Rubio didn't wait. He immediately fired off a letter to Ricky "R.D." James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. On Wednesday. Same day as the meeting.
In his letter he called the Corps' CEPP slow-down "simply unacceptable."
"CEPP, along with the dynamic storage and treatment capacity of the soon-to-be authorized EAA Storage Reservoir project, is the key to improving large scale water management in South Florida," Rubio said in the letter. "The Corps must rapidly scale up its efforts to design and construct all CEPP features authorized in 2016 to be ready to manage the enhanced flows that will result from the operation of the EAA Storage Reservoir, which the State is committed to completing in 7 to 9 years."
He stressed, "To improve flood mitigation within the Water Conservation Areas and improve wet season flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, the Corps should prioritize the construction of water flow and distribution features from south to north."
Besides emphasizing the importance of CEPP, Rubio also singled out the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike; closing out the myriad of nearly completed construction projects to assist water flow; finding and developing reliable aquifer storage and recovery options around Lake Okeechobee; and continuing projects with direct benefits to coastal water quality -- in other words, the Corps should be doing its part to stop toxic discharges harmful to human health and the environment.
Rubio closed his letter by urging James "to work with the South Florida Water Management District, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, to address my concerns with the July 2018 Update of the Integrated Delivery Schedule.
"When combined with the increased federal commitment," he said in closing, "I have urged the president to make beginning with his 2020 budget, an updated IDS conforming to the priorities outlined above could truly prove to be a 'watershed' moment for the State of Florida and America’s Everglades. ..."
See Rubio's letter to the assistant secretary of the Army by clicking here.
Looking at Rubio's background on the issue just this year:
Following his June request, Rubio welcomed an announcement by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that it had approved the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) Post-Authorization Change Report (PACR), allowing Congress to consider authorizing construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges to coastal communities. Earlier this month, Rubio also requested that President Trump have the Corps delay scheduled discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, as well as double Everglades restoration funding beginning with his fiscal year 2020 budget request to Congress. An extended list of Rubio’s efforts can be found here.
Rubio is a powerful Senate presence with a long history in Everglades and Lake Okeechobee issues. His involvement in restoration matters gives Floridians a force watching their backs. Remember, too, Florida is way ahead of the federal government on paying the legally mandated 50-50 cost share. Plus, every dollar invested in Everglades restoration produces $4 in economic benefits.
Rubio is working with considerable leverage.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith