Congressman Francis Rooney
The quality of our Southwest Florida waterways, estuaries and marshes is the driving force behind our economy and why most of us have chosen to live here. As there are many different ideas and proposed solutions to our water crisis, it is important to know the facts. First, since Lake Okeechobee fills six times as fast as it drains, due to the fact that the Everglades is less than one-half its original drainage footprint, a series of complementary projects in all areas of the watershed is necessary. This is what the Central Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) called for – 68 projects.
The IDS is the detailed planning document which prioritizes and plans for execution of these projects. Second, we don’t need any more authorizing laws right now. There are billions of dollars in unfunded but authorized projects from the Water Resource Development Acts of;
The CERP was passed in December, 2000, 16 years ago. Now we have unfunded projects of around $6 billion. The state is several billion dollars ahead of the federal government in funding these projects which, per the passage of CERP, were supposed to be 50/50 cost sharing. C-43, at Labelle, authorized in the 2014 WRDA bill, is a good example of a federally authorized project which is lacking funding. The state has commenced construction of this $500M basin which will hold 170 million acre feet of Caloosahatchee water for storage in high discharge times, and at some point we need the federal government to fund their part.
In the WRDA Act of 2016 there is authorized $2.096 billion for a series of CERP projects which include $133 million to finish the Picayune Strand (which includes filtered water from Golden Gate Estates), removing a series of canals in the water containment areas (WCA) which are obsolete and impede the flow of water south and construction of another flow equalization basin (FEB). Furthermore, there are still several unfinished projects from the WRDA Acts of 2014 and 2007, including completion of the de-channelization of the Kissimmee development of storage wells to hold water in times of high rains and completion of Indian River Lagoon (C-44). There is no reason to send more water south until the Tamiami Trail bridge project is complete, so that the water can flow past it into Florida Bay.
One mile has been built, another two and a half or so is under construction and ultimately another three need to be built. The bridge is a cost share too- 50-50 state and feds. Lastly, the federal government is obligated to reinforce and strengthen the Hoover Dike. Once done, the lake can temporarily hold a higher level of water in times of excessive rains and discharge it more ratably then last summer’s emergency discharges, which damaged estuaries and stirred up pollution. The bottom line is that restoration of the Everglades and the Okeechobee Watershed, and controlling excessive discharges into our rivers and bays, is a complex and expensive challenge involving projects all around the lake and along both rivers, east and west, as well as the southward flow projects.
I am working every day to make this case to the federal government, including the Army Corps of Engineers, House and Senate Appropriations Leaders, and the White House, that we need them to fund what they have committed to fund in these authorization laws. I am narrowly focused on the federal roles here to expedite the existing plans and complete the projects called for through the CERP.
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