Senate urged to pass Water Resources Development Act
The Everglades Foundation gathered water quality advocates and experts at Centennial Park in Fort Myers Tuesday morning to urge federal lawmakers to pass the bill that would see an Everglades Reservoir built south of Lake Okeechobee.
The Water Resources Development Act will be voted on this week in the Senate, with an outcome expected.
“Everglades restoration changes that infrastructure (currently sending releases east and west from Lake O), ” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation. “The variety of projects that are under way and that will be coming online will redirect the way water flows on the Florida peninsula. We’ll store it, clean it, and send that water south down to the Florida Keys.
“About 18 months ago, the Now-or-Never-Glades effort took hold, and we united the business community along with the conservation community to ensure that a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee will become a reality. The folks behind me have spent tireless hours urging legislators both in Tallahassee and in Washington, the governor of Florida, to ensure that this reservoir, south of Lake Okeechobee, once constructed, will provide significant relief to the residents of Southwest Florida as well as our fellow Floridians on the Treasure Coast.”
Those behind him were Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation; Captain Daniel Andrews, Executive Director for Captains for Clean Water; Shane Spring, Realtor & Businessman for Florida Realtors Association; Brad Cornell, Southwest Florida Policy Associate for Audubon Florida and Tiffany Esposito, President & CEO of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re now on the verge of this project being approved by the United States Senate in Washington,” said Eikenberg. “We want to keep the pressure on until the last vote is counted, but we feel very good about where things stand as it relates to the authorization of this important project.
“This has been an environmental catastrophe, an economic crisis, and it’s a public health emergency. Everglades restoration is to solve these issues.”
Each speaker gave their input from their point of view and expertise.
Wessel provided scientific details on the lake and toxic blooms, saying that we find ourselves in a “Goldie Locks condition.”
“Too much water when we don’t need it, too little water when we do need it. And this year, that double-whammy has created two toxic algal blooms,” she said. “That devastation to the aquatic environment is compounded by the public health risks that both of these toxic blooms have created.”
Wessel said the good news is that for the first time, if the bill passes, we will have a third option for moving water, rather than sending it east or west.
Esposito said that 4,500 businesses in Lee and Collier counties are calculating a direct impact of $150 million a month in economic loss from this crisis.
Andrews said the new bill will provide significant relief to estuaries that are being ravaged by these water events.
“Fishing is a $9.3 billion industry in this state,” he said. “This is really a full-circle solution that is providing benefits to everybody in south Florida. It’s important we see this is a huge step forward. When the Senate passes this, it’s going to be a huge victory.”
Spring spoke of the real estate market, and the hit that Realtors have felt with customers weary of these water events.
“Water is why people move here,” he said. “We need to fix our water. We have a chance, finally, to get our water fixed. We have three days now to reach out to our senators and ask them, ‘Please pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2018.'”
Cornell noted the effects the water has had on birds and other wildlife on the property Audubon protects in the Everglades and in Fort Myers.
“This is a really bad outcome for our wildlife on the coast. We’ve got to do better on that,” he said. “We’ve lost half of our storage by destroying half of the wetlands of the Everglades. We need to get that storage back. We need to get that water quality treatment back. The WRDA bill is one big step towards that.”
Florida has set aside $200 million for Everglades restoration, said Eikenburg, something he wants to see the federal government match: federal officials have said that they would but have not done so yet.
“We call on the White House and we call on Congress to up the amount coming out of Washington D.C., it needs to match Florida – $200 million dollars does the trick,” he said.
If approved, funding will still be the top issue, and could take anywhere from four to 10 years to build-depending on the actions of Florida’s new governor.
“If we let the bureaucrats take over again, then we’re looking at-as they’ve said-10 to 15 years to build this,” Eikenberg said. “The same agency that’s going to be responsible for building it, built the Mosul Damn in less than a year in Iraq, under artillery fire. This is our artillery fire that we’re facing. We’re facing the choking of blue-green algae in this community. The job loss, the threat to human health, we need the agencies-the South Florida Water Management District-The Army Corps of Engineers-to step forward and build this project within the next four years.”
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj