OKEECHOBEE — Like approximately 1,000 Lake Okeechobee area residents, I was at Pahokee High School on the evening of March 17 for a community meeting with Florida Senate President Joe Negron. I was early enough to obtain a ticket for a seat in the auditorium — which held less than half of those who turned out for the event. Like many others, I arrived armed with a list of questions, but the format for the event did not lend itself to questions asked directly from the audience, and time constraints meant that although we were allowed to turn in questions on cards, the moderators grouped the cards together and summarized related questions into a general question on the topic.
I compliment the organizers of the Pahokee meeting, which was put together on very short notice. It was orderly and organized, and as promised they encouraged participants to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
But since I had unanswered questions when I got home, I emailed my questions directly to Senator Joe Negron.
A copy of my email is below. I have not yet received a response. I will let you know if I do.
To Senator Joe Negron,
I would appreciate answers to the following questions:
At the meeting in Pahokee, you said the status quo in which lake water is released east and west is not acceptable. The CERP projects to restore the flow have been waiting for funding for years. Why not use available state funds to help expedite CERP in the order already established for optimal results?
Col. Jason Kirk of the Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, and South Florida Water Management District Chairman Dan O’Keefe last week individually stated that the right timing for the EAA reservoir is 2021, as planned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) because the optimal function of the EAA reservoir is dependent on completion of other parts of CERP. For example, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) will create the flow way to bring water from the lake to the EAA reservoir and the Tamiami Trail projects to raise part of the road and remove the old road are necessary for water to flow from the EAA reservoir to Florida Bay. How does it help to move up the timeline for the EAA reservoir if you don’t also move up plans for the projects that will connect the reservoir to the rest of the system?
The Corps of Engineers has stated that 11 miles of raised Tamiami Trail roadway are needed, and to date two projected totaling 3.5 miles have been funded. Funding has been a big problem for the Tamiami Trail work, as it has for all of the CERP projects. Is it even possible to speed up CEPP and the Tamiami Trail work? What is the point of building the EAA reservoir if the connecting projects are not in place?
The government already owns more than 25 percent of the land in the Everglades Agricultural Area. In the Florida Senate Hearings about Senate Bill 10, officials from the South Florida Water Management District stated they already have enough land and don’t need to purchase more property in the EAA for the restoration projects at this time. Why take more land off the tax rolls when water management scientists have stated they believe they can accomplish the restoration goals with the land the state already owns? Why buy more land instead of using all available funds to build the projects on land the state already owns?
If you take more land off the tax rolls, will the state compensate Palm Beach County and/or Hendry County for the loss in ad valorem taxes?
The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Plan study started last year, and recent reports state that a northern reservoir and Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells could reduce the lake releases to the coastal estuaries by 60 percent. In addition, slowing the flow of water into the lake would provide the option to filter it and clean the water before it goes into the lake. That plan appears to provide the fastest relief to the coastal estuaries. Dr. Wendy Graham of the University of Florida Water Institute testified at the Senate hearing that storage both north and south are needed and both provide potential relief to the coastal estuaries. More storage north would mean cleaner water going into the lake and less storage needed south. Why are you not championing the northern storage plan?
The footprint of Lake Okeechobee was reduced by about one-third when the Herbert Hoover Dike was built, which means the lake does not have the capacity to hold as much water as it did before that. Not only is water from the Kissimmee River basin coming in faster than nature intended due to the man-made changes to the system, but there is less room in the lake for that water to go. Storage has been or is being constructed east, west and south. More storage south is in the CERP plan for 2021. Shouldn’t storage north of the lake be the priority now?
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at email@example.com