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Thursday, 23 February 2017 01:49

Florida Senate Bill 816 Featured

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Florida water quality is and/or should be in the forefront of all residents thoughts, if you aren't paying attention, then WAKE UP! ... You should be! Our coastal waterways are the reasons I/we moved here and why over 100 million tourist come to Florida annually.

The name "Okeechobee” translates to "big water" in the Seminole Indian language, a name apropos for the lake that measures 730 square miles, it is the largest lake in the southeastern United States. However, the lake is shallow, with an average depth of only 9 feet.

Many of you already know that Lake Okeechobee and its wetlands are at the center of a much larger watershed, the Greater Everglades, that stretches from the Kissimmee River through the Everglades and finally into Florida Bay. The lake is a key component of South Florida's water supply and flood control systems, providing a natural habitat for fish, wading birds and other wildlife, and it supplies essential water for people, farms and the environment. The lake provides flood protection and attracts boating and recreation enthusiasts from around the world. It is also home to sport and commercial fisheries. The quality of it's water is paramount to all of southern Florida.

Florida Senator Joe Negron’s has filed a proposal to purchase 60,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area for water storage to reduce the need to release freshwater from Lake Okeechobee during heavy rain season to our coastal estuaries.

Meanwhile Florida Senator David Simmons has introduced Senate Bill 816, which would require the state to complete repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike so Lake Okeechobee high water levels would be allowed to reach up to 19 feet.

Currently, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps , makes decisions on whether to retain or release water in the massive lake, on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the South Florida Water Management District.

The Bill states : “In the process of rehabilitation, repair, improvement, and strengthening of the dike, the district shall set a goal of adding up to an additional 2 feet of water storage capacity above that provided by the current Interim LORS08 Schedule to Lake Okeechobee in order to reduce the need to release lake water into the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River systems, so that maximum discharges are not required until the water level of the lake reaches 19.0 feet NGVD.”

Senate Bill 816 asks the State of Florida to declare the rights of the state to control discharges from Lake Okeechobee and to assume the leadership role in the repairing the dike. Many think this is a great idea, taking control of discharges would mean the state and not the Corps would decide when to or not to release fresh water. While many oppose the idea, mainly due to the damage that can be caused by adding the possibility of the lake reaching up to 19 feet.

One of the groups that has come out in strong opposition to the bill is the Florida Audubon Society, saying in a press release: “The Simmons bill would place a world class wildlife paradise at risk. Lake Okeechobee is home to a great sports fishery and is beloved by birdwatchers and duck hunters,”

"By holding water at 19 feet before maximum discharges are possible, SB 816 would drown the 150,000 acres of marshes that make up some of the best wildlife habitat in the Everglades. This area provides excellent fish spawning, habitat for birds and recreation for people."

"The South Florida Water Management District’s adaptive protocols for Lake Okeechobee note that above 16 feet, impacts to the Lake’s ecosystem can occur rapidly. In both 1988 and 2000, when the Lake was held chronically higher than 15 feet, “ecological emergencies” were declared on the Lake. "

"A deeper Lake is also a dirtier Lake. Deeper water levels stir sediments on the bottom of the Lake and drown submerged aquatic plants that otherwise help clean water. High water levels also tend to occur with large inflows that carry high nutrient loads. Conversely, in years when water levels have allowed the marsh to thrive, nutrient concentrations have decreased significantly."

"Deep dirty water in the Lake will cause even more harm to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The Lake simply cannot hold an unlimited amount of water. When discharges to these estuaries are required, water released will be even more nutrient rich than the water released in 2013 and 2016. This in turn would compound the chance of toxic algae blooms and other negative impacts."

​ "Ultimately, SB 816 is offered as an alternative to creating the long-planned reservoirs south of Lake Okeechobee that will reduce discharges to coastal estuaries and provide freshwater to the Southern Everglades and Florida Bay. But Senator Simmons’s proposal leaves the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries as the only major outlets for the Lake. This lack of options is what Everglades restoration aims to address. Without a new southern outlet, the proposal in SB 816 will not prevent the need for discharges. The discharges will simply occur under more strenuous circumstances and contain dirtier water."

This is our state, what do you think about SB 816? Good idea? Or not?

Al DiPasquale

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