Orlando Sentinel

November 05, 2016

Look north of Lake Okeechobee for cost-effective 'Glades solutions

Melanie Peterson


Finishing the full suite of Everglades restoration projects already underway or on the books is the only solution for damaging discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries. Buying land south of Lake Okeechobee does not solve the problem.

Yet this single-minded agenda-driven notion is repeated ad nauseam by some environmental advocates who refuse to accept the science, acknowledge the myriad constraints in South Florida's water-management system and ignore the massive financial burden to taxpayers.

My responsibility as a member of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board is to consider the big picture and use the facts to develop policy that brings real, cost-conscious environmental benefits.

Consider that the 2015 University of Florida Water Institute Study recommends 1 million acre-feet of storage north and south of Lake Okeechobee to significantly reduce coastal discharges. Up to 750,000 acre-feet, or three-quarters of the total, is needed north of the lake. This makes sense because 92 percent of water flowing into the lake comes from the north, as do most of the harmful nutrients specifically, 92 percent of the phosphorus and 87 percent of the nitrogen.

As the water-management district's chief engineer has noted, northern storage provides the greatest flexibility to operate the water-management system for flood control and water supply and help store and treat these nutrients before they enter the lake or the estuaries.

Consider that, under the parameters of the UF study, taxpayers have already invested $4.1 billion in projects that are complete, underway or planned south of the lake, $1.9 billion east of the lake and $833 million west of the lake, compared to just $120 million north of the lake. This includes the massive C-44 reservoir now under construction to store and clean water before it reaches the St. Lucie River and Estuary, and the C-43 reservoir which will capture, store and supply water for the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary.

Consider that a single reservoir south of the lake will not clean or store enough water to prevent coastal discharges or prevent algae blooms.

Most detrimentally, it will foist billions more in tax burden on South Floridians that does not include the cost of building the infrastructure to clean and convey the water south.

Consider that the political will to get the job done is solid. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an ambitious plan to invest $5 billion in state funding for Everglades restoration during the next 20 years; another $4 billion is envisioned in federal matching funds. This plan provides a dedicated, ongoing source of revenue to ensure the projects under construction are finished and the efforts on the books move forward.

This comprehensive vision is how we restore the Everglades and curtail the coastal discharges. We will continue to innovate on restoration technology and science and find solutions to the vexing array of federal bureaucracies and antiquated wildlife acts that constrain water-management operations. Advocating the purchase of a multibillion-dollar property that is not for sale, for sole storage south, is a disservice to restoration and those who have worked so hard to make it a reality.

For all these considerations and many more, I stand firmly behind the governor, the Legislature and the experts at the water-management district in my resolve to continue on our common-sense path and fix our environment for our families and future generations.