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CONVERSATIONS: On Gov. Scott's Desk: More Water For Florida's Everglades

The sun sets behind the lock and dam on Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River. Photo by Amy Green
The sun sets behind the lock and dam on Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River. Photo by Amy Green

Now on Gov. Rick Scott's desk is a legislative measure adding a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration.

The Legislature approved the bill after bitter debate over central and south Florida's water.

90.7 environmental reporter Amy Green has been following this issue throughout the legislative session.

CRYSTAL CHAVEZ: Amy Green, tell us about the measure. What does it do?

AMY GREEN: Sure. Well, this is the bill pushed by Senate President Joe Negron. It calls for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee after lake discharges last year triggered toxic algae blooms.

The main thing the measure achieves is that it speeds up work on the reservoir. There always have been plans for a reservoir south of the state's largest lake for Everglades restoration, but the work wasn't scheduled to start until 2021. Now it can begin as soon as August.

CRYSTAL: Now, there was a change where the measure went from buying land to using primarily state land. Where did this end up?

AMY: It makes way for a deep reservoir primarily on state land, and you'll remember Negron had called for newly acquired land, something the region's sugar farmers bitterly had opposed. Instead the reservoir will be constructed on what is known as the Talisman land, where there were plans for two deep reservoirs but only a shallow one was built.

Julie Hill-Gabriel of Audubon of Florida says the plan is similar to what originally was proposed for the Talisman land. Here she is.

"While we were about to get some significant water storage south of Lake Okeechobee there were a lot of water quality problems. After that the focus went back to solving the water quality problems but not necessarily the water storage. So this is an attempt to solve both the water quality problems and the water storage in one comprehensive way."

The cost is $1.5 billion to be shared with the federal government.

CRYSTAL: What's the reaction now from environmental groups?

AMY: Environmental groups are cheering, saying the measure's passage is momentous for the Everglades. Sugar farmers are pleased the bill prohibits eminent domain but still argue more attention is needed north of Lake Okeechobee, and plans are underway for additional water storage there.

CRYSTAL: Amy Green, so the issue here is water storage. Does the bill provide enough?

AMY: No, it does not provide the storage needed to solve all of Florida's water problems. New research is calling for a vast amount of additional storage throughout central and south Florida. Scientists say the Everglades historically were much wetter than previously thought, and now sea level rise is pressuring the watershed. And this is important because you'll remember the river of grass supports the drinking water of more than a third of Floridians.

Environmental groups describe the measure as a good step, but we can expect this conversation to continue well into the future.

CRYSTAL: Is Gov. Rick Scott expected to sign the legislation?

AMY: The governor has said he supports the plan, but it does not include $200 million he requested for repairs to Lake Okeechobee's dike. Negron says there just wasn't room in the state budget.

CRYSTAL: And what is the outlook for toxic algae blooms this summer?

AMY: Much different than last year. You'll remember rainy weather triggered last year's lake discharges and toxic blooms.

This year the weather is so dry, meaning the lake level is well below what it was last year.

CRYSTAL: 90.7 environmental reporter Amy Green. Thanks for joining us!

AMY: You are welcome!


Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.