Lake Okeechobee reservoir proposal heads to Gov. Scott

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) After “guacamole-thick” muck fouled Florida beaches nearly a year ago, the Florida Legislature on Tuesday passed an ambitious plan to build a reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee on state land to reduce harmful discharges.

The House and the Senate on Tuesday passed the proposal which would provide funding for the $1.5 billion project. The plan has been a priority of Senate President Joe Negron this Legislative session, and after numerous changes and much uncertainty, the future of the proposal is up to Gov. Rick Scott.

“After 20 years of talking about southern storage … this legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague on our communities in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners,” Negron said in a statement.

The proposal to build a 240,000-acre-feet reservoir system (78.2 billion gallons or 296 billion liters) received pushback from the sugar and agricultural industries throughout the vetting process. The powerful industries, which often give hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Florida politicians, feared thousands of acres of farmland would be taken out of production to move way for the reservoir. The bill now prohibits the state from taking private land to build the project.

The bill also provides grants to establish training programs for agricultural workers whose jobs may be affected by the reservoir project.

If Scott signs the bill into law, the state would split the project cost with the federal government. U.S. Congressman Brian Mast said in a statement he would help ensure the federal government matches Florida’s “commitment to clean water.”

In 2014, a massive algae bloom polluted coastal water and shut down Florida’s southern beaches and river. The toxic algae threatened businesses, tourism and marine life and prompted Scott to issue a state of emergency.

Scott says he supports the project and is “glad” the Legislature is taking a step to fight the toxic algal bloom affecting the region. But he says water storage is only part of the solution and urged legislators to add $200 million to the state budget to fix the vulnerable dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.

The final bill allows the state to borrow $800 million for the project rather than depend on lawmakers to allocate funding every year.

Author: Associated Press
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