On June 6, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the 2018 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA). The vote was 408 to 2. This legislation is important for Florida since it includes authorization for a large water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee on state-owned lands. Florida had previously passed its own legislation authorizing the reservoir during its 2017 legislative session.
Water Resource legislation is usually tackled by Congress every couple of years, although the pattern of recent water bills has been somewhat irregular. These legislative acts typically authorize multiple Army Corps of Engineer infrastructure projects around the country, and also serve additional purposes for maintenance, upgrades, and improvements for existing water-related assets.
The United States Supreme Court has announced it will hear oral arguments in the Florida versus Georgia water usage lawsuit beginning this week. The case centers around Florida's efforts to mandate a statewide water usage cap for the state of Georgia in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin. Previously, as CCA Florida has reported to its members, a U.S. Supreme Court Special Master held that Florida failed to establish proposed usage remedies would be effective in providing relief to the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a major manager of impoundments along the Chattahoochee River, was not a party to the lawsuit. The legal action represents the most recent battle in the long-running “water wars” among the Southeastern states over the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee River Basin. The state of Alabama has typically sided with Florida on the matter.
The 2018 high court calendar also includes hearing arguments in a similar case involving Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, in which Texas is arguing that New Mexico is in violation of the Rio Grande Compact by diverting water before it reaches Texas. Both cases will be reviewed by the Court after rulings by a Special Master, and require the Justices to determine whether to uphold or modify those decisions.
We're continuing to monitor all issues involving the Apalachicola River, given the importance fresh water inputs from the river have on multiple marine resources and habitat in Apalachicola Bay and a large portion of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Correct salinity balances are crucial in Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf for several species of marine animals, from oysters and blue crabs to red drum and tarpon.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senator Jack Latvala amended Senate Bill 10. With an amendment sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley, the new focus of the bill is to utilize 31,000 acres of land the state already owns in the EAA, now generally referred to as Parcels A-1 and A-2, and proposes utilizing these parcels for greater storage capacity of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee. The new version of the bill also directs the purchase or exchange of 3,700 acres of land between Parcel A-2 and Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, and allows for the acquisition of additional properties is necessary. It further moves to terminate current agricultural lease arrangements early on some of these lands so the parcels would be available sooner for reservoir construction.
Florida's lawmakers are working on a law which calls for the purchase of approximately 60,000 acres of land for use as a dynamic water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. On Tuesday, March 7, Senate Bill 10 underwent a massive rewrite. Now called "An act relating to water resources", the measure is more comprehensive and contains four times the text of its predecessor.
CCA Florida applauds the continued work of our lawmakers, and was on hand to listen to remarks at an Appropriations Subcommittee Meeting last Wednesday. Senator Bradley confirmed that the proposed reservoir is in addition to - and in no way should interrupt - important Everglades restoration projects currently underway or planned. CCA Florida believes this is a vital qualification to storage east, west, north and south of the lake, which Senator Bradley also mentioned. Our lawmakers continue to show commitment to a comprehensive plan to improve Florida's water quality addressing septic tank issues, residential and agricultural impacts, and wise use of the land we Floridians already own south of Lake Okeechobee and elsewhere. How we pay for all these measures may prove quite controversial, and CCA Florida urges everyone to be patient and respectful of differing opinions.
CCA Florida will continue to monitor the measure as it travels through the Senate and House. The thoughtful and comprehensive approach of our elected representatives is encouraging, and CCA Florida commends their hard work.
CCA APPLAUDS ACTION FOR THE EVERGLADES AND ST. LUCIE AND CALOOSAHATCHEE ESTUARIES
Yesterday, Senator Rob Bradley filed a bill to make law of the ideas championed by Senate President Joe Negron. If passed, the new law will add 60,000 acres of water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. It calls for the immediate search to purchase “strategically located lands south of the lake and the construction of [a] reservoir project… [to] reduce the harmful freshwater discharges. Additionally, water storage south of the lake will increase the availability of water for the Everglades…”
CCA Florida will continue to work with Florida’s elected officials and other fishery advocacy groups to help advance the critical Everglades and estuary restoration.