The end of the Florida legislative session concluded with the approval of a bill related specifically to water resources. Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 10 late on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. SB 10, sponsored by Senate President Joe Negron, whose District 25 includes Martin County and the St. Lucie estuary. SB 10 supports the construction of a deep-water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). The goals of the reservoir are to reduce freshwater discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and reduce the impacts of harmful algal bloom events like the one that made international headlines in 2016.
The Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project is 17 years in the making. It was conditionally authorized in the Water Resources Development Act in 2000 as an original component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). In light of ecological, economic and potential public health impacts, SB 10 accelerates the construction of this reservoir to reduce discharges to the east and west and improve the hydrological connection to the Everglades.
SB 10 was revised from its original version, reducing the amount of bonded (i.e. borrowed) dollars to up to $800 million and relying on the conversion of state-owned lands rather than purchasing the originally proposed 60,000 acres of agricultural land.
The bill will convert the South Florida Water Management District’s (SFWMD) 14,000 acre A-2 parcel into a deep-water reservoir. Additional parcels of land may be acquired to meet the goal of providing at least 240,000 acre-feet of water storage. (An acre-foot is the volume of water one acre in area and one foot in depth. It is equivalent to 325,851 gallons). Any additional land may be acquired through the termination or negotiation of existing leases, land purchases and/or swaps within the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). The bill does not allow the state to take land through eminent domain. Land may not be purchased beyond what is needed to meet water quality standards.
Completion of the EAA reservoir is not without its challenges, however. By law, water flowing into the Everglades must meet certain state and federal water quality standards, specifically in regards to phosphorus concentrations. Water treatment will therefore need to be a consideration before any water can be moved south out of the reservoir. It is also important to note that construction of a reservoir south of the lake will only minimize, not eliminate, discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west. In 2013 and 2016, 136 and 220 billion gallons of water were discharged from Lake Okeechobee, respectively. Lastly, as with all CERP projects, construction of the EAA reservoir is contingent upon the federal government paying half of the total $1.6 billion project.
Beyond the EAA reservoir, SB10 authorizes other measures related to water resources. Some are related to CERP while others provide funding to protect water quality throughout the state. Here is an overview of select items within SB 10.
Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule
The SFWMD is responsible for requesting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reevaluate the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 2008). The USACE is the primary agency responsible for regulating when water is discharged from the lake. Currently, the USACE uses LORS 2008, which aims to hold the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet surface depth to reduce failure of the Herbert Hoover Dike. In light of recent repairs and damaging discharges to the estuaries, modifications to LORS 2008 may allow for additional storage during the wet season and reduce high-volume freshwater discharge from Lake Okeechobee.
Water Storage Facility Revolving Loan Fund
The bill establishes infrastructure financing and assistance for local governments to support the development of new water storage facilities. Loans will be granted based on a priority system.
Land Acquisition Trust Fund
Excess monies in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund may be appropriated or used for other purposes including: 1) CERP implementation projects; 2) Spring restoration, protection, and management projects; 3) Lake Apopka restoration projects; 4) EAA and C-51 reservoir projects.
Everglades Restoration Agricultural Community Employment Training Program
The Department of Economic Opportunity will operate a grants program to support nonagricultural training and education opportunities for agricultural areas experiencing high levels of unemployment.