Senate President Joe Negron’s priority water project is heading for a floor vote. After shifting and twisting through committees, the measure’s fate is uncertain.
The Senate plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is set for the Senate floor Wednesday. Southern water storage is seen by many environmentalists as the most effective way to reduce toxic discharges from the lake and feed fresh water to the Everglades. Last year, in a Stuart auditorium, supporters got a powerful champion in Senate President Joe Negron.
“This is not going to be easy,” he told the crowd. “This is going to be a long and difficult journey to accomplish this.”
“I’m 100 percent committed to doing it, and I believe we can do it.”
And Negron’s forecast for the road ahead was spot on. The Stuart Republican’s top priority for this year’s session has faced criticism on multiple fronts.
The governor didn’t include the reservoir in his spending plan. The House is skeptical of buying new land and adamantly opposes borrowing money to fund the project. Free market think tank the James Madison Institute argues a reservoir north of the lake would be more effective. Some in the Everglades Agricultural Area, or EAA, say water storage could cripple their local economies.
“So when you are considering all these things,” former Hendry County Commissioner Janet Taylor told a Senate panel, “we want you to remember there are people—not fish, not grass and not other things—but there are people that live in these communities that you are talking about.”
Negron put the measure in the hands of Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), and his response was swift. At the second committee hearing, Bradley tacked on amendments paying for septic-to-sewer conversions, and sending conservation dollars to the Keys and the St. Johns River in a bid to build support within the chamber.
“The feedback I received was, while we understand and appreciate that what happened in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries was unacceptable—it was a state of emergency—that we need to make sure that we address all areas of the state,” Bradley said.
But House Budget Chief Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami) stood firm in opposition to buying new land.
“We have more than enough land that we can manage,” he said. “I think if you look at our budget we have to make informed decisions and we have to make tough decisions.”
So Bradley went back to the drawing board, and came back with a raft of changes for the bill’s final committee. Those conservation dollars for the Keys and St. Johns? Gone. Borrowing? Delayed for a year. And buying new land? Perhaps the state won’t.
“It revises the EAA project to use the A2 parcel,” Bradley explained, “which is already owned by the South Florida Water Management District and use that to provide a minimum of 240,000 acre feet of storage through a deep storage reservoir and water quality treatment features.”
To translate, that means the footprint shrinks and the reservoir gets deeper to compensate. House opposition has softened somewhat. But there are likely more changes in store if Negron’s plan eventually gains passage.