By an 86-5 vote, the Senate passed the Minibus Appropriations bill, H.R. 5895 -- the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2019 -- at 6 p.m. Monday. And with it are two of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's amendments, both necessary to ensure the Everglades restoration plan will continue to be implemented, and implemented according to "the will of the Florida delegation."
The more "overarching" of the two is the amendment that both clarifies Congress' commitment through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to increase freshwater flows to the Everglades and authorizes a 50/50 federal-state cost share for the restoration projects.
What it does is, it reasserts the original intention for Everglades restoration efforts to redirect Lake Okeechobee discharges toward the Central Florida Everglades, where discharge water would be stored, treated and used to increase freshwater flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. In addition, the amendment expresses the sense of Congress that water quality features, including those water quality features of the proposed Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir, should be cost-shared equally by the state and federal government.
Rubio's second amendment would ensure that any Lake Okeechobee discharges by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Caloosahatchee River or the St. Lucie River are conducted in pulses, unless there is a threat to the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike. This measure would strengthen existing water management rules to minimize the downstream impact of discharges on water quality, and allow for periodic flushing of potential harmful algal blooms and nutrients and the periodic recovery of brackish conditions in the estuaries.
Rubio issued a statement after the vote. "With continued discharges from Lake Okeechobee, local communities are already concerned about another 'Lost Summer,'" he said.
"My amendments reflect the will of the Florida delegation and Congress as a whole, continuing the federal-state partnership to fix the complex water problems faced by Floridians. We have provided the Administration with all funds necessary to complete the expedited rehabilitation of the Dike, and we will continue to urge the Corps to fulfill its commitments to downstream communities and the Everglades."
Rubio's ability to get the Big Things done for Florida is one of the reasons state voters endorsed his second term in 2016.
-- Earlier this month, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he secured key Everglades funding and protected the Interior Department’s Everglades restoration budget from unjustified cuts.
-- South Florida leaders have commended his leadership and work to restore the Everglades and improve the quality of Florida’s waterways, while also trying to "fix" flooding problems on Miami-Dade farms near Everglades National Park.
-- Rubio worked to write and pass a disaster supplemental appropriations package that would provide funding to secure the repair of federal flood control and Everglades infrastructure in Florida that had been damaged by Hurricane Irma. Signed into law on Feb. 9, as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act, this legislation provides sufficient funding to address key flood risk management priorities for Floridians across the state, including the expedited rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
Rubio's other efforts on behalf of the Everglades include these:
In March, he led the South Florida delegation in urging to expedite its review of CEPP’s Post-Authorization Change Report (PACR) submitted by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).
Rubio’s efforts ultimately convinced Senate Environment & Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe to support CEPP.
Following the Senate’s passage of WRDA in September, Rubio urged key House and Senate committee leaders of both parties to retain important Florida projects in the final version of the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA).
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith