The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, on Wednesday passed Senate Bill 10, legislation to reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and further other critical water resource protection.
The bill addresses the need for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, a priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. It was expanded during the meeting to include a "Coast-to-Coast Comprehensive Water Resource Program" to provide funding tools to implement water protection programs across Florida.
The rewritten bill passed 5-1. Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, the lone dissenter, said the potential economic impact on people living south of the lake had not been addressed. "What do they do for jobs?" he asked.
"If I felt like there was a compromise that was not going to devastate, along with (providing) real true economic development in the Glades, I could go with that, said Braynon. "But we're not there yet."
Negron had this to say in a statement released after the meeting:
“Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee have flooded communities on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers with massive amounts of toxic algae that destroyed estuaries and harmed the local and state economies. Unfortunately, incidences like these are not unique in our state and are a symptom of the lack of attention to water resource development. The lost summer must be a wakeup call for all Floridians.
“After listening to citizens from around the state, we are expanding this critical legislation to address an immediate response to the Lake Okeechobee crisis, along with other pressing water issues facing our state as a whole. In 2016, we made an impressive start by passing Legacy Florida and a comprehensive water bill. Through Senate Bill 10 we are backing up those commitments with funding investments to improve water resources throughout our state.
“The voters spoke about the urgency of this issue when they approved the Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014 by overwhelming margins. Senate Bill 10 ensures fidelity to the Constitution by utilizing resources set aside by that amendment to make the financial investments we need to meet the water infrastructure needs of families, businesses, agriculture and the environment.
Said Bradley, “As we developed this legislation, we heard from thousands of Floridians, and they have been clear that we must have clean water for our families and businesses, sufficient water for our agriculture industry, and we must preserve our unique rivers, springs and natural systems for the enjoyment of future generations. We cannot fail in this effort.
“In addition to the environmental disaster around Lake Okeechobee, we recently experienced the massive sewage discharge in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, each session Senate policy and budget committees review issues relating to water quality and quantity concerns with the St. John's River, the Florida Keys, and a vast majority of our springs and rivers.
“For over a generation, Florida has focused on land acquisition for conservation with historic programs like Florida Forever and P2000. Senate Bill 10 recognizes that with approximately 30 percent of all land in Florida already managed for conservation purposes, it is clearly time to meet the directive Florida voters gave the Legislature through the Water and Land Conservation Amendment by focusing land acquisition and conservation priorities on specific improvements related to water resources.
“These critical investments in water infrastructure will create jobs across our state and save a valuable resource to serve our state’s growing demand.”
The Coast-to-Coast Comprehensive Water Resource Program includes the following:
-- Acceleration of the timing and funding for the state share of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project. The bill authorizes the purchase of land for the project from willing sellers in the EAA and does not authorize the use of eminent domain.
-- Funding of the state share of all existing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects in the integrated delivery schedule (IDS), including the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project, the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir Project, the C-44 Reservoir Project, the Western Everglades Restoration Project, the C-111 South-Dade Project, and the Picayune Strand Restoration Project.
-- Direction to the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the reevaluation of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule to take into account repairs to the dike and new southern storage features to increase storage in the lake as early as possible.
-- A new bonding program, building on the Florida Forever model that recognizes the need to bond for water resource protection and development across Florida. The bill transfers the remaining $3.3 billion of existing bonding authority from Florida Forever to the Florida Coast-to Coast Water Resources Initiative. The bill does not create additional bonding capacity.
-- A new revolving loan financing program and statutory tools to allow the state, water management districts and local governments, to develop and operate water storage and supply facilities to service regional populations addressing the growing need for water supply in the state.
-- Dedicated LATF funding to expand Legacy Florida to include projects addressing water quality and restoration with the St. John's River and the Florida Keys.
-- Funding to aggressively address the retrofitting or conversion to central sewer systems of outdated septic systems consistent with Gov. Rick Scott's leadership on this issue.
-- Provisions that encourage reuse by establishing a water reuse grant program, specifically to assist wastewater treatment facilities to expand capacity to make reclaimed water available for reuse.
Danielle Alvarez, meanwhile, spokesperson for EAA Farmers, Inc. issued a statement after the passage of SB10:
"It is astonishing that SB 10 continues to lack scientific, common-sense solutions that will solve the problems in the coastal estuaries, which requires treating the problem at its source north of Lake Okeechobee.
“EAA farmers have been an integral part of Everglades Restoration efforts for more than 20 years and want real solutions to address the problems plaguing the coastal communities. The changes to SB 10 dress up the legislation but are still absent of real solutions for the purported goal of this legislation. SB 10 remains the same anti-farmer, job-killing land grab that will waste billions of taxpayer dollars, destroy communities, diminish American food production and, in the end, will not solve the problem.”
Also on Wednesday, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) engineers and scientists published its latest detailed modeling of proposed water storage alternatives as part of the ongoing Lake Okeechobee Watershed Planning Project (LOWP).
Among the alternatives are a 250,000-acre-foot, above-ground northern reservoir, alongside 110 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells. When combined with already authorized components, says the SFWMD experts, these recoverable water storage options reduce the total discharge volume to the estuaries by more than 60 percent.
"Publishing the results of alternatives is a key step in our public planning process that accounts for the views of every interested party," said SFWMD Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau Chief Akintunde Owosina, P.E. "These latest results reaffirm our optimism about the future of these projects, as a team of engineers and scientists work to determine the most effective plan for restoring our estuaries and the Everglades."
In addition to reducing total damaging discharges to the estuaries, these alternatives demonstrate additional positive results related to reducing the frequency of years in which damaging discharges occur. The models show that a 250,000 acre-foot northern reservoir and 110 ASR wells will decrease the number of years with damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee by more than half, giving the estuaries additional time to recover.
Click here to view the preliminary modeling of options, including above-ground reservoir and ASR wells, published to the PDT on March 8.
SFWMD engineers and scientists say they will continue to publish progress on LOWP, contributing to effective decision-making based on sound science.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith