Published: Aug 16, 2013 7:13 AM EDT

STUART, Fla. (AP) - A plan to divert some of the Lake Okeechobee water now dumping into the St. Lucie Estuary took a small step forward.
The South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors tentatively approved a draft plan Thursday for the Central Everglades Planning Project. According to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers ( ), the approval sets in motion a process designed to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project included in the federal Water Resources Development Act that Congress is considering.
The board approved the action unanimously, but some members had significant concerns. James Moran, a board member from West Palm Beach, said the project won't meet quality standards set by a federal court order on water entering the Everglades.
"We're only kidding ourselves and only kidding the public," Moran said. "Nothing is going to happen on (the project) unless the water quality issue is resolved."
The $1.8 billion project would send about 65.2 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water south each year rather than east toward the St. Lucie Estuary and west to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. That's less than half of the nearly 143.4 billion gallons of water discharged to the St. Lucie each year from Lake O every year. The Caloosahatchee gets almost 326 billion gallons of Lake Okeechobee water annually.
The project would use land south of the lake that's already in public hands. It is scheduled to take at least 10 years to complete. Federal water bills generally are approved every seven years, so inaction could mean a significant delay.
Several Martin County officials spoke at the meeting. County Commissioner Sarah Heard told the board the billions of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water was "turning our estuary into a filthy, frothy opaque nightmare; and it's toxic."
Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding said this would be the first of several projects needed in the future.
"This is a good beginning," Fielding said. "But it is just a beginning. Everyone needs to be aware that we need to get all the water south."
Information from: The Stuart (Fla.) News,

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8/15/2013 6:20:22 PM (GMT -4:00)