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Water bill passage hailed

October 11, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a bill that water quality advocates have been urging the Senate to approve, was passed by a convincing 99-1 vote Wednesday, securing the construction of a reservoir to be built south of Lake Okeechobee, as well as a development program for the Army Corps of Engineers to help mitigate blue-green algae.

"I think this is a culmination of two years of pushing for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee," said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the The Everglades Foundation. "This is a critical piece for slowing the discharges east and west. A whole new group of people came forward; Realtors, anglers and economic leadership. This is a broad coalition; that's what's so heartening."

Now, President Trump has 10 days to sign the legislation, which there are no reservations about him doing, according to Eikenberg.

"Once signed, the important work begins," Eikenberg said. "The state needs to begin to prep the site, and our effort is to lay the soil by April."

Florida Crystal, a sugar concern, is currently leasing the land on which the reservoir is intended to be built. That lease expires March 31, 2019.

Implementation of the project will move more water from Lake O through 6,500 acres of marsh, that will filter and clean the water, and store it in a 10,500-acre reservoir.

It will be 23-feet deep and hold roughly 240,000 acre-feet of water.

The Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir will cost an estimated $1.3 billion, to be split 50-50 between the state and federal governments.

Between Legacy Florida ('14), and Senate Bill 10 ('16), the state has its $800 million accounted for, and will use those allocated funds to begin working on the project as soon as possible.

As for Washington, it will be up to whomever is elected Florida's governor in November to lobby for Everglades restoration dollars.

"We now pivot to get the Everglades more money out of Washington D.C.." said Eikenberg. "We will work with (Sen.) Marco Rubio, (Rep.) Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other members of Congress."

Eikenberg praised U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for being vocal in Washington.

"With passage of WRDA in both chambers, an important step in completing the 68 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects has been completed," Rooney said in a prepared statement. "This bill authorizes the EAA Reservoir which is critical restoring water flows south from Lake Okeechobee, and it expedites review of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). These projects are crucial to reducing harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee River, sending water south and improving our water quality."

"I'm glad to see this project that Sen. Rubio and I have worked so hard to advance has passed to the Senate," Nelson said in a written statement. "This reservoir is particularly important right now to help mitigate the toxic algae crisis that's sweeping the state, but it's also critical for our broader Everglades restoration effort."

Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director for Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, who has championed this movement on behalf of Southwest Florida for years, is encouraged with the progression our region has fought for to remedy toxic waters in a state so dependent on water quality.

"The passage of the 2018 WRDA Bill is a most significant step forward for Everglades Restoration," she said. "The project will establish the critical water infrastructure needed to begin dismantling the single purpose, 20th Century flood control project that has damaged and degraded five natural, vibrant treasures; three estuaries, the Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie and Florida Bay, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, a UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.

"Now we must use the momentum from this approval to assure that federal funding is dedicated to match state funds and complete the project without delay. We encourage the elected leaders of Florida and Congress to set a goal of project completion in the next four years. Our waters our wildlife and our economy depend on it."

A secondary part of the bill will see the ACOE implement a five-year harmful algal bloom technology development program to identify and develop improved strategies for prevention and management techniques, early detection and procedures to reduce harmful algal blooms.

Though this is being called a major victory for Floridians, residents can not ease up on letting their voices be heard on the matter and must continue to break down barriers when it comes to water quality regulations, officials said.

"We can't take our foot off the gas. We can suffer from amnesia at times," said Eikenberg. "We can't go back to out-of-sight, out-of-mind, we need to stay focused, with urgency at the forefront."

If we want to have a healthy ecosystem, marine life and water that makes Florida such a travel destination, this reservoir needs to be built in a timely manner, he added

"The Everglades will function more naturally (once the reservoir is in place)," said Eikenberg. "It is best for Southwest Florida and the whole state. This is a tourism-based economy. The greatest threat to tourism is environmental disaster and toxic water events. Restoring the Everglades protects the economy going forward."

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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