Belle Glade Sun

Land state already owns could be used for EAA reservoir

An amendment added to Florida Senate Bill 10 on Tuesday would allow the South Florida Water Management District to use land the state already owns to build a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The original SB10 requires SFWMD to purchase 60,000 acres in the EAA from “willing sellers” by the end of 2017 for a storage reservoir to help reduce harmful releases from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal estuaries. If no willing sellers can be found, SB10 requires SFWMD to exercise the state’s option to purchase U.S. Sugar holdings of 153,000 acres.

More than 25 percent of the EAA is already in government ownership.

Judy Sanchez, Senior Director Corporate Communications & Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar said the amendment is a step in the right direction.

“This amendment makes significant progress and demonstrates that the Florida Senate has begun taking seriously the concerns of residents from communities south of Lake Okeechobee. The decision to no longer take 60,000 to 153,000 acres of farmland out of production is a positive step forward. While the amendment improves the bill, there are significant concerns related to the arbitrary timelines for the southern storage reservoir, which appear to conflict with the current timing of the federally-authorized projects in the Integrated Delivery Schedule,” she said.

“ We agree with Senator Negron that science should continue to guide this bill, and we look forward to providing additional input on developing science-based solutions that actually will reduce the harmful discharges and build real solutions that work for all of our communities.”

Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg stated, “President Negron’s amendment moves us closer than ever before to our goals of greater water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, massive reductions of algae-causing discharges and improvements in the quality of water entering the Everglades and Florida Bay. It fulfills our objectives of moving more water south, and by prioritizing the use of land already owned by the state, it reduces the need for bonding.

“We are pleased that the legislation will compel the South Florida Water Management District to prioritize storage south of Lake Okeechobee — something that we have urged for years. The amendment will also provide an additional $100 million to expedite the reservoir and existing projects already underway.”