2019 has been a banner year for Lake Okeechobee. In January, the lake hosted the Costa FLW Series at Lake Okeechobee presented by Power-Pole at the world-renowned Roland and Mary Ann Martin Marina in Clewiston. The tournament brought hundreds of anglers to our area, resulting in a significant economic boost to Clewiston the surrounding lakeside fishing communities.
Since that time, the lake has played host to dozens of other tournaments, which continue to attract thousands of amateur and professional tournament anglers from around the world.
While these tournaments were happening, our broad coalition of Lake Okeechobee supporters — professional fishing guides, restaurant and hotel employees, bait and tackle shop owners and employees, and local residents — were also fighting for funding to ensure plans that will help improve the health of Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries move forward. We went to Tallahassee and urged lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support the planned storage and treatment project north of Lake Okeechobee, known as the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project. Once this project is completed, it will help #SlowTheFlow, treat water from the northern watershed, and significantly reduce harmful discharges to the coast. While in Tallahassee, we addressed supporters from all over the state who joined us in a rally at the top of the capitol steps. We then met with House and Senate members and even House Speaker Jose Oliva to encourage them to support the $50 million that was proposed for this critical project.
We spoke out, rallied, walked the halls and, thankfully, our leaders listened. The Florida Legislature approved the $50 million for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project and Gov. Ron DeSantis approved it in the current state budget. Following the legislative session, the South Florida Water Management District announced plans for moving forward with this critical project.
The Florida Legislature heard our voice last session by providing $50 million; however, more is needed to complete the components of the project that will provide the most relief to Lake Okeechobee. We look forward to working with the Florida Legislature again this session to continue to fund the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project.
Considering that more than 95 percent of the water and nutrients in Lake Okeechobee enter from the north, it was time for the state to begin working on a project that can #SlowTheFlow and send cleaner water to the lake. Working together, our coalition remains focused on making the completion of this important project a reality.