State Sen. Joe Negron made a promise to his constituents he would work to return Lake Okeechobee discharge decisions to local water managers, and on Tuesday the Stuart Republican kept it.
Negron, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin (IRLLOB), called on Floridas congressional delegation to push for federal legislation to remove the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sole jurisdiction over Lake Okeechobee releases.
He also asked to include authorization of the C-43 Reservoir project in the federal Water Resources Development Act of 2014 (WRDA) -- essential, he said, if Florida is to remain proactive in balancing the risk of a breach in the Herbert Hoover Dike or failure with ongoing environmental impacts.
Over the last few months, the Army Corps has demonstrated a willingness to be more proactive and coordinate with the South Florida Water Management District to manage lake levels. This experience demonstrates the state water managers and the Army Corps can work effectively together, Negron wrote in a letter to the Florida congressional delegation.
However, the fact remains the Army Corps has sole jurisdiction and authority over lake levels and acts within that authority even when those actions conflict with the state water managers better judgment. We need your help to permanently and officially rebalance this delegation of responsibility and authority.
The Army Corps authority to manage the lake water level comes from Congress. Using this authority, the Army Corps undertook a risk assessment of the dike after the flooding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. The results showed the federal government had failed to maintain the dike, which was found to be in serious disrepair. In response, the corps implemented the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 2008).
Explains Negron, under the LORS schedule, the Army Corps holds less water in the lake during the wet season in order to reduce the risk of a dike breach or failure. While this schedule addresses ongoing flood-control needs, it fails to account for the fact that every wet season the risk of damage to the estuaries, caused by these freshwater releases, is 100 percent.
I am asking Congress to remove the Army Corps sole jurisdiction over Lake Okeechobee releases and to direct the Army Corps to develop an interim risk assessment and lake-level schedule to account for the rehabilitation that has been completed or is ongoing to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, Negron said.
In a report released on Nov. 5, 2013, the Senate Select Committee on IRLLOB recommended amending the operational jurisdiction of the Army Corps to give Florida, specifically the Department of Environmental Protection, authority over regulatory releases when the risk of dike failure is less than 10 percent. The report notes procedures should be established for when the risk of failure exceeds this threshold, including federal notification that would provide the state 24-hour notice to assess liability and decide whether to maintain control, or to temporarily release authority to the federal government.
The Select Committee report also recommended appropriating $15 million to support construction of the C-43 basin project, in anticipation of final passage of a federal WRDA bill.
Within the next few weeks, Congress will consider the 2014 Water Resources Development Act. Within this legislation, you have the opportunity to authorize the C-43 Reservoir project, which will benefit the Caloosahatchee region by allowing for the storage of excess lake and local basin water during the wet season for use during the dry season, said Sen. Negron.
Florida has done our part to prepare the way for federal approval of this needed water storage project. The state has purchased the land and approved the plan for the reservoir.
With the wet season scheduled to begin in just a few months, federal action is needed to address several recommendations designed to better manage lake levels, regulatory releases and water quality, concluded Sen. Negron. I look forward to working with you to implement these recommendations and to better protect Floridas interests in the future.
The full text of Negrons letter to Floridas congressional delegation is attached below.