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With Revisions, Controversial Water Storage Reservoir Bill Passes Senate Committee

Supporters say Florida's Everglades would benefit from increased freshwater flow with the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
Kate Stein
/
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Foul-smelling blue-green algae choked beaches on Florida's coasts last summer. Senate Bill 10 would result in a reservoir to reduce water discharges from Lake Okeechobee that contribute to the blooms.
Credit Martin County Health Department
/
The Florida Channel
Foul-smelling blue-green algae choked beaches on Florida's coasts last summer. Senate Bill 10 would result in a reservoir to reduce water discharges from Lake Okeechobee that contribute to the blooms.

A controversial plan to build a reservoir that would help address damaging water discharges in the Everglades ecosystem is one step closer to being enacted — thanks to revisions that take into account the concerns of farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

On Wednesday, Florida’s Senate Appropriations Committee approved a revised version of Senate Bill 10. The bill aims to alleviate blue-green algae on Florida’s coasts by reducing the amount of water that's discharged to the coasts from Lake Okeechobee.

"A lot of the questions that were brought up have been addressed," said Julie Hill-Gabriel of Audubon Florida. She said the revised bill focuses on setting restoration goals and then finding land to meet them.

That addresses the controversy in the original bill. It would have required the state to acquire 60,000 acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee, taking that land out of production and potentially costing jobs.

In the new version, the state would begin reservoir construction on land it already owns — 31,000 acres at the southern tip of the Everglades Agricultural Area. The goal is 120 billion gallons of storage.

Senate President Joe Negron says more land will still be required.

"The question is, how much," Negron said. "But we have funded and we are directing the [South Florida Water Management] district to determine what private land, whether through purchase or through voluntarily terminating leases.

"We’ve put a lot of opportunities out there to assemble the private land that we need to finish up."

If the bill becomes law, the water management district would be required to determine how much additional land is needed and take charge of buying or trading for it.

The revised bill is scheduled to go before the full Senate this week. Senators will have the opportunity to ask questions before voting on whether to send the bill to the House.

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.