OKEECHOBEE — As the Florida Senate debates Senator Joe Negron’s 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 events to the coastal estuaries, another Florida Senator has a different proposal for storage of excess freshwater from the Kissimmee River Basin. Florida Senator David Simmons has introduced Senate Bill 816, which would require the state to expedite the repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike so that Lake Okeechobee high water levels could be allowed to reach 19 feet.
Senate Bill 816 calls on the State of Florida to declare the rights of the state to ultimately control discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee and assume a leadership role in the rehabilitation of the dike.
“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,” states the bill.
The Florida Audubon Society immediately issued a statement in opposition of the bill.
“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,” stated the Florida Audubon press release.
“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,” states the Audubon press release.
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