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Environmental Group Supports Southern Reservoir As Water Debate Ensues

Rasmus Bøgeskov Larsen via Flickr

Everglades Foundation vice-president Thomas Van Lant’s testimony before a Florida Senate committee on Everglades restoration has been pushed back. But the Everglades Foundation CEO said he and Van Lant will keep pushing their plan for the park’s restoration.

Environmental advocates like the Everglades Foundation support building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to keep toxic algae blooms from discharging into the Everglades. Scientist Thomas Van Lant said that’s critical to improving the water quality.

“I think what you’ll find is storage south of the lake in fact increases your ability to send water south to the Everglades and have a new outlet to the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee," he said. "That is what’s going to give the benefits to decreasing discharges to the estuaries.”

A reservoir to the south, at a cost of nearly 2.5-billion-dollars, is supported by Senate President Joe Negron. It would mean buying land that the U-S Sugar Corporation was previously open to selling. Now it wants more land for farming, not less. Other sugar industry representatives have opposed Negron’s plan.

Planning for the south reservoir was moved to 2021. But Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said by that time it will be too late. The state’s option to purchase land from the U-S Sugar expires in 20-20 and now the company wants to keep it. The sugar industry has also linked up with the South Florida Water Management District, which is opposing the reservoir plan. “Sixteen counties make up the south water management district," Eikenberg said. "All taxpayers regardless of their political affiliation pay to that agency. That agency has specifically gone after organizations like Audubon Florida, like the Everglades law Center in a way that is unprecedented. We’ve never seen it before.”

Republican Governor Rick Scott has called for using land the state already owns for a reservoir north of the lake. And the Florida legislature’s gearing up for an intense debate on the issue.

Eikenberg said the lake’s pollution has reached a crisis level several times over past few years after toxic algae fouled the state’s coastline. Officials declared a state of emergency last year that lasted more than 240 days.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.