Florida Senate President Joe Negron is hopeful he’ll win support for a Lake Okeechobee reservoir. But his proposal still faces strong opposition from fellow lawmakers and residents south of the lake.
Florida lawmakers are miles apart when it comes to a $1.2 billion plan for a Lake Okeechobee storage project. Senate President Joe Negron hopes to borrow funds to buy 60,000 acres south of the lake in order to build a reservoir to stop the harmful algae blooms tied to water runoff. Negron says he's working to get buy-in from House lawmakers, who have not included the project in their proposed budget.
“I’m confident that we're going to, at the end of session, have additional storage capacity south of Lake Okeechobee. And there are ongoing conversations among the Governor’s office, the House of Representatives and the Senate on the best way to do this,” Negron said.
But the communities who live and farm in the area have their doubts as well, including the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. The group argues the land buy could force them to close their Belle Glade mill, with a potential loss of 560 jobs.
“We’re also listening to our fellow citizens who live in the Glades Community to get their input on the best way we can do this. And not have an adverse effect on the economy in that region of the state,” Negron said.
The reservoir would control and direct discharges, sending the water south to the Everglades. Currently the water is seeping out to the east and west, resulting in toxic, guacamole-thick algae that is choking the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries. Negron says it's time for the state to act.
“You have a lake sitting in Florida. It gets to fifteen and a half or sixteen feet. Hundreds of billions of gallons of water go east and west. It was never designed for that to happen. And we need to have an outlet south of the lake,” Negron said.
But Negron's colleagues don't all share his sense of urgency. The plan has not yet had a hearing in the House, where leadership is opposed to borrowing the funds. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to debate the issue next week.