JACKSONVILLE – Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pay more attention to the need for water storage north of Lake Okeechobee.
In a Feb. 4 letter to District Commander Jacksonville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Andrew Kelly, Simpson claimed the recent emphasis on the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir has left the northern watershed shortchanged. The letter expressed support for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project, which includes aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells.
“As you are aware, in recent years, Florida’s Legislature has appropriated unprecedented funding to address environmental restoration. Through collaborative efforts between the state and federal government the beginning phases of construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee have been expedited. While I have been supportive of interventions both north and south of the lake over the last several years, my concern has been that the aggressive timeline for southern storage has been at the expense of very important interventions north of the lake,” Simpson wrote.
“Unfortunately, this timeline and the policy and funding priorities associated with it have unnecessarily pitted north against south and perpetuated the false narrative that a southern reservoir alone will solve the problem. I reject that narrative, and it is for this reason I have advocated that a concurrent focus on problems north of the lake – where the Everglades begin – is key to an efficient, effective, and complete restoration.”
However, he noted “as a businessman I fully appreciate the possibilities offered by aggressive timelines and strong partnerships. I was very pleased to see the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 authorized federal funding for the Corps to carry out the reservoir project. Additionally, with the $64 million appropriated by the Florida Legislature during the 2020 Legislative Session, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) now has all the funding needed to complete the Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) to accompany the reservoir. The project can now move forward without additional funding from the State of Florida and our state resources can be redirected to projects north of Lake Okeechobee.”
With the EAA reservoir project now funded, attention should be focused north of the lake, he explained.
“Implementation of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) is the most important element of restoration for the northern Everglades ecosystem, as approximately 95 percent of the water, 92 percent of the phosphorus, and 89 percent of the nitrogen flowing into Lake Okeechobee, the ‘heart’ of the Everglades, comes from north of the lake,” Simpson wrote.
“The 494,000 acre-feet of northern storage the LOWRP provides will be used to keep lake levels from rising too high in the wet season and make water available for release in the dry season. This creates the operational flexibility necessary to help maintain lake levels that are ideal for the lake’s ecology and helps ensure adequate water supply for users around the lake.
“It is worth noting that despite the frequent banter we all hear about the inefficiency of government bureaucracy, through an effective partnership between the state and federal government, the EAA Reservoir project moved from the end of the line to being fully funded and under construction within the last five years. My goal is to continue the partnership that led to this historic progress,” he continued.
“Recognizing the disparate focus on southern storage, over the last two years, the state has committed $100 million to the LOWRP, which the SFWMD is using to carefully implement aquifer storage and recovery. Last year, the Legislature also passed a landmark piece of environmental legislation that will help promote improvements to water quality throughout the state and directly address inspections of best management practices north of the lake. This is in addition to the tremendous ongoing efforts of the Department of Environmental Protection and the SFWMD have taken as part of the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program and Restoration Strategies.
“The Senate has demonstrated its commitment to approaching solutions north of the lake with the same vigor and momentum we had for southern storage. With the EAA Reservoir STA fully funded, we are ready to dedicate the resources needed to expedite the implementation of the LOWRP. It is absolutely critical that the Corps facilitate congressional approval of the LOWRP as quickly as possible. Congressional approval in advance of the 2022 WRDA would support the accelerated timeline these northern projects deserve,” he concluded.