‘Best buy’ Lake O reservoir projects just in

A report to Florida lawmakers outlining the “best buys” for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee made it in just under deadline Tuesday, hitting Senate President Joe Negron’s desk minutes before 5 p.m.

The report, submitted by the South Florida Water Management District, outlines five choices on cobbling together land in western Palm Beach County to store excess lake water and save Treasure Coast waterways from damaging algae outbreaks.

The plans range in price from $1.34 billion to $1.71 billion with the two “best buys” sitting on either end of the spectrum.

“This has been several months with our whole team working around the clock to get it done,” said Eva Velez, the South Florida Water Management District’s director of everglades policy. “We identified these two and we want to continue developing them with a little more technical work and get even more reductions to estuary discharges.”

The reservoir has been on a fast track since it was pushed by Negron, R-Stuart, approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year.  The bill anticipated a $1.6 billion budget with the state and federal government splitting the cost.

Water management district spokesman Randy Smith said the plan came so late in the day because officials were “double and triple checking” it.

A quick review reveals no major changes to previous drafts.

Environmentalists had asked the footprint of the reservoir be enlarged to allow for a shallower pool, but Velez said the district couldn’t find any private land owners willing to sell or trade their property to increase the reservoir size.

After the reservoir options were released, Negron wrote water management Director Ernie Marks urging the district to be flexible in planning the reservoir and use additional land, if necessary. The law doesn’t allow the district to take land for the reservoir by eminent domain.

“The leases we have on all Everglades Agricultural Area land will be terminated for this project,” Velez said.

But 80 percent of land owners contacted by the district refused a swap or sale, Velez said.

The reservoir project must also be approved by Congress, with a report due Oct. 1. A timeline for completion calls for federal authorization in 2019.

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