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Five Things I Learned in Washington about Lake Okeechobee Discharges

March 2, 2017 - 4:00pm

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, I had the opportunity to meet in Washington with Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bill Nelson, members of Congress, senior budget staff, and high-level representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the best way to reduce and ultimately eliminate the devastating discharges from Lake Okeechobee.  After completing these meetings and reviewing related documents, here are five things I know:

1.  If Florida advances funds to complete the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, the federal government will not repay the money to Florida.  We will have simply spent hundreds of millions of dollars of General Revenue funds on what is unquestionably a federal responsibility.
 
2.  As I have consistently advocated from day one, Florida's best scientists should determine the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) and not the Army Corps of Engineers.  Achieving this goal would take an act of Congress, a highly unlikely outcome.
 
3.  Once the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation is complete in 2024, the Army Corps of Engineers is not committed to storing one more gallon of water in Lake Okeechobee.  The LORS must go through a multi-year review process, with the Corps predicting only negligible modifications to the release schedule. The Corps wants to avoid expected negative impacts it believes would result if the lake is managed at higher levels than the present.
 
4.  Under both the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), redirecting damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges southward to improve the flow, timing, and distribution of water through the Everglades has already been authorized.  The issue is not if we will have additional southern storage, it is when and where.
 
5.  If the Florida Legislature approves and funds additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps of Engineers will reevaluate the order of priority in the 2016 Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS).  Florida is a partner in Everglades restoration and its decisions influence and impact federal participation in the 50-50 matching program.  An example of this reality is the Corps' recent initiation of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed one year earlier than planned after adverse discharge events.

Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has made one of his top two priorities Senate Bill 10, legislation to bond for $1.2 billion to buy 60,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. If the bill passes, the federal government would partner with the state for another $1.2 billion. The above oped was written earlier Thursday to be distributed to all members of the Florida Senate.
 

Comments

Negron used to represent US Sugar. Now he is out to destroy sugar and farming in general. Sounds personal to me. Don't make the farmers and citizens of the Glades suffer over your personal feuds.

The TRUE problem are the politicians who spout their own 'facts' about subjects they have absolutely no idea about! Bill Nelson is absent minded, forgetful, and attempts to cover his faults with bs to appease the people. Rubio is simply a liar and anyone believing him, his words, or his staff are very, very foolish! Rubio and his staff in Tampa were just EVICTED today from their office because of the protesters last week. Of course, Rubio was absent from that too. I wonder where he spends all his time if NOT at his job Florida rehired him to do, or NOT in his many offices in Florida? Girl/boyfriend?

stop the two biggest abusers of fertilizer, Big Sugar and Citrus and you will stop the algae. if you don't, whether you build a big swimming pool or not, you get what you get...

If it's been such a problem acquiring the farm land south of the Lake, why can't we just dig a river to connect from Lake O to the Everglades and bypass the whole problem and not put thousands of jobs at risk? If additional storage is needed, create reservoirs in other areas around the Lake that won't affect the community.

Sen. Negron, I thank you for caring and, more so, for pursuing action. You are making a difference.

I understand he cares, but he is efforts are directed in the wrong area! SB10 is based on the Everglades Foundation’s extremely questionable $2.4 billion, 60,000-acre storage reservoir plan that has been proven to be based on flawed science.

Septic tanks are a very small portion of the pollutants into our waterways! Big sugar dumps tons of polluted water into our rivers! The shame are the politicians that continue "studies" and prolong solutions for our state!

Since WRDA 2000, the Federal government was expected to pay 50 percent of the cost of Everglades restoration. Most of the money spent since then has been spent to keep the lights on for a small army of federal employees in South Florida. Meanwhile, the Loxahatchee Refuge problem with invasive vegetation has only gotten worse and the pythons are taking over Everglades National Park. It is a pipedream that the Congress will ever fund Everglades restoration. And trying to maintain a national park in pristine condition at the bottom of a watershed is impossible.

Has Negron learned nothing from how this was received when he trotted out a few weeks ago? It needs major overhaul and if not, it should be tabled or DOA.

Does the Senator care anything about the cities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and Clewiston which stand to lose jobs for its citizens? More land taken means less vegetables-in addition to sugar-for us to buy locally. The problem is and always have been north of Lake Okeechobee and, since the COE screwed up the Kissimmee River we taxpayers pay to correct it to cleanse the runoff from Disney(don't blame the ranches). The gov't already owns acreage south of the lake so they can dig the reservoirs deeper and not threaten the livelihoods of our western neighbors. I hope politics won't bring more votes for SB 10. Families' survival depend on them!

If we want to clean the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee, the water needs to be cleaned before entering the Lake. More efforts are needed in North and Central Florida where 100% of the aquifer recharge comes from. This plan will destroy family farms, kill jobs, and cost Florida's taxpayers dearly, and doesn't have any scientific evidence that it will even work.

Your first sentence says it all, David, because that's where the problem begins. Until the waters entering the Lake are cleaned up, what comes our of the Lake will continue doing its damage.

Let's focus on Florida's best scientists. Are they the 200 constantly mentioned by the Everglades Foundation consisting of FIU graduate students and others with absolutely no South Florida water resource experience? Other than the Foundation, only the worthless Stuart News idolizes this list which is made up of individuals with pathetic credentials. Lastly, is an act of Congress really that unlikely President Negron? Your first paragraph states otherwise since you are such a name dropper and so well connected in Washington!

There are issues with septic discharge but they pale in comparison to the concentrated agriculture contaminants in Lake Okeechobee. However, if more water was retained in wetlands north of Okeechobee it would reduce the need for a southern reservoir and would allow more cleaning of the water prior to entering Okeechobee and recharge of the aquifer under the Kissimmee River area. There are many projects that are already planned and ready to go north of Okeechobee that are sitting waiting for adequate State and Federal funding. According to another recent article his own Republican Congressional delegation schooled Senator Negron that introducing another project - the southern reservoir at this point could jeopardize federal funding that is already in the pipeline (if they decide go back and reassess). Do we really think we will get more federal funding with the environmental mess that is transpiring in D.C.? Senator Negron and Governor Scott are in deep trouble in South Florida because they have squandered time when they should have been pressing for completion of these projects north of Okeechobee. Now Senator Negron is trying to project himself as an environmentalist. He is not - he knows that this project is dead on arrival. He is scared for his political future. He needs to do his homework before trying to pass off this project as a viable opportunity to fix a horrible situation in his district. We need to hold Senator Negron and Governor Scott accountable for a deplorable history of neglect of the environment in the State of Florida at a time of critical need.

I guess he still has not learned that the real problem is not discharges from the lake, but septic systems around the lagoon, which are poisoning the water with nutrients. Until the correct premise is considered (the problem starts at home), no reasonable resolution will be achieved. Negon wants to blame others, and then get money from others to pay for a problem in his back yard.

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