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Negron Tries To Boost Case For Water Proposal

Okeechobee_lake_from_space.jpg

It is "highly unlikely" Florida will get federal officials to turn over control of water releases from Lake Okeechobee, and the state will not get repaid if it advances money to fix the lake's Herbert Hoover Dike, Senate President Joe Negron advised senators on Thursday.
But Negron, R-Stuart, said the federal government may reprioritize a project list for Everglades restoration if Florida approves its portion of Negron's $2.4 billion proposal to build a 60,000-acre reservoir atop mostly sugar-industry farmland south of the lake. Negron's proposal is aimed at reducing harmful releases from the lake into estuaries to the east and west.

"Under both the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), redirecting damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges southward to improve the flow, timing, and distribution of water through the Everglades has already been authorized," Negron wrote after meetings this week in Washington, D.C. "The issue is not if we will have additional southern storage, it is when and where."

Negron's proposal (SB 10), sponsored by Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has started moving in the Senate but has met skepticism in the House.

The bill, intended to protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, proposes that the state bond $100 million a year through money voters approved in a 2014 constitutional amendment aimed at land and water conservation.

Last week, House Government Accountability Chairman Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said advancing Negron's proposed reservoir 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, House leaders have expressed little appetite for issuing bonds to finance Negron's proposal, which has drawn strong opposition from farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area, along with many residents and politicians south of the lake.

EAA Farmers spokeswoman Danielle Alvarez issued a statement Thursday urging Negron to consider other solutions to reduce water discharges from the lake, including storage and treatment of water before it enters the lake from the north.

"It has been made clear that any plan to acquire more land south of the lake would be nothing more than an anti-farmer, job-killing land grab," Alvarez said.