House Support Lukewarm For Negron’s Water Plan

Feb 24, 2017

It appears doubtful the House will take up, as written, a $2.4 billion proposal by Senate President Joe Negron to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee to ease the impacts of polluted water releases into estuaries on the east and west coasts.

House Government Accountability Chairman Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said advancing Negron's proposed 60,000-acre reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area — atop what is now farmland — would be "non-starter" if it displaces other projects, such as the $600 million C-43 reservoir along the Caloosahatchee River west of the lake.

Also, the House has little appetite to borrow money through bonding the state's portion of the costs — the federal government would be asked to cover half — for Negron's proposed land acquisition and reservoir construction.

"I'm dubious that the bill, as it's currently structured, could actually be accomplished the way it's envisioned," said Caldwell, who brought U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., to a meeting Wednesday of the state House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

Rooney, a Naples resident, advised the panel that his focus is getting federal lawmakers to commit money for what is known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. That plan, he said, doesn't have Negron's southern reservoir high on the priority list.

Negron has made a priority of the reservoir plan because of polluted water that has repeatedly been discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. Moving lake water into the reservoir would help protect the estuaries.

Caldwell said the state House is still evaluating the southern reservoir proposal. Caldwell has directed the state House's approach to 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires the state to spend money on land and water preservation and maintenance.

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee gave unanimous support this month to the Negron-backed measure (SB 10), which is opposed by farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area, along with many residents and politicians south of the lake.

The bill proposes the state bond $100 million a year through money voters approved in the 2014 constitutional amendment.

Negron told The News Service of Florida last week that while there are "pockets of resistance," the "idea enjoys widespread, scientific support."

He expects the debate will continue to focus on where south of the lake the reservoir should be located and when it should be built.

"It's something we've been talking about for 20 years," Negron said. "And I think in the end that we'll get it accomplished."