The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill today that includes the authorization for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful discharges to the northern estuaries.
The bill, called the Water Resources Development Act, still faces Senate approval. But advocates say they are hopeful a favorable Senate vote may happen this month because the language in Thursday’s bill was a compromise agreed to by House and Senate committee members. The bill is also known as America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.
“This is good news for America’s Everglades,” said Celeste De Palma, director of Everglades policy at Audubon Florida. “Thousands of Audubon supporters urged Congress and the White House to advance the Everglades Agricultural Reservoir project in the last few months.”
The $1.4 billion project slated for state-owned land in western Palm Beach County is a partial answer to activists’ calls to “send the water south” and could alleviate the blue-green algae blooms that have plagued the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
If approved by the end of the year, the plan for the 10,500-acre above-ground reservoir and 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area will seek money from the 2020 federal budget. Depending on how the money is distributed for the project — the state and federal government are expected to split the cost — the reservoir could take about 10 years to build.
“Fixing our water issues is, without a doubt, the most important priority for our community, and this bill is significant progress in our fight,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Mast. R-Palm City. “People are getting sick, animals are dying and our environment is being demolished. We cannot wait any longer to get this bill signed into law.”\
The reservoir was pushed by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the retiring Florida Senate president , and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017. It followed the devastating algae outbreak of 2016 when thick foul-smelling mats of cyanobacteria covered the St. Lucie River during a period that included the Fourth of July holiday — a heavy tourist time for the Treasure Coast.
This summer, both the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie are suffering algae outbreaks after record May rainfall forced discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
“At a time when we’re seeing toxic algae plague our nation’s waterways, bipartisan support and momentum in Congress is needed now more than ever,” said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for the National Parks Conservation Association after today’s vote.