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Negron’s Water Plan Clears First Hurdle

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Senate President Joe Negron's plan to buy farmland south of Lake Okeechobee to try to prevent the return of toxic algae blooms in Treasure Coast waterways drew unanimous support Tuesday at its first Senate committee.
Still, Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican sponsoring the measure (SB 10), acknowledged the proposal for a 60,000-acre reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area —  opposed by farmers, residents and politicians south of the lake — isn't the only solution, a view expressed by other members of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

After 90 minutes of public testimony, Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who was chairing the meeting, called the bill — which doesn't have a House counterpart — "a starting point."

"We really haven't seen any other ideas, specifically laid out, as alternatives," Latvala said. "We have two houses in this process. It certainly would be great to know if the House doesn't think there is a problem in South Florida that needs to be handled, on either the Southwest coast or Southeast coast, or that they have a different way of handling it."

Negron's plan is designed to move water south to the reservoir instead of sending polluted discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. Discharges have occurred into the waterways when water levels in the lake have become too high.

Among other potential options or additions is $60 million that Gov. Rick Scott included in his proposed budget to help homeowners switch from septic tanks to sewer systems and the possibility of building reservoirs to handle water from Central Florida before it reaches the lake.

"The governor is absolutely right, septic tanks are a part of the problem," Bradley told reporters after the meeting. "So that needs to be a part of the solution. Southern storage is not a silver bullet. It's part of a many-faceted approach. … And it's something that we need to be mindful of, along with northern storage and other things."

But Bradley appeared skeptical of a proposal that Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, intends to put forward as an amendment or a stand-alone bill that would offer a $1 billion interest-free loan to the federal government to speed up repair work on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

"The federal government's responsibility is to repair that dike, and we will continue to encourage them to address both repairing the dike and the schedule of water releases that can remain in the lake," Bradley said.