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With Revisions, Controversial Water Storage Reservoir Bill Passes Senate Committee

Kate Stein
Supporters say Florida's Everglades would benefit from increased freshwater flow with the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Credit Martin County Health Department
Foul-smelling blue-green algae choked beaches on Florida's coasts last summer. Senate Bill 10 would result in a reservoir to reduce water discharges from Lake Okeechobee that contribute to the blooms.

A controversial plan to build a reservoir that would help address damaging water discharges in the Everglades ecosystem is one step closer to being enacted — thanks to revisions that take into account the concerns of farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

On Wednesday, Florida’s Senate Appropriations Committee approved a revised version of Senate Bill 10. The bill aims to alleviate blue-green algae on Florida’s coasts by reducing the amount of water that's discharged to the coasts from Lake Okeechobee.

"A lot of the questions that were brought up have been addressed," said Julie Hill-Gabriel of Audubon Florida. She said the revised bill focuses on setting restoration goals and then finding land to meet them.

That addresses the controversy in the original bill. It would have required the state to acquire 60,000 acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee, taking that land out of production and potentially costing jobs.

In the new version, the state would begin reservoir construction on land it already owns — 31,000 acres at the southern tip of the Everglades Agricultural Area. The goal is 120 billion gallons of storage.

Senate President Joe Negron says more land will still be required.

"The question is, how much," Negron said. "But we have funded and we are directing the [South Florida Water Management] district to determine what private land, whether through purchase or through voluntarily terminating leases.

"We’ve put a lot of opportunities out there to assemble the private land that we need to finish up."

If the bill becomes law, the water management district would be required to determine how much additional land is needed and take charge of buying or trading for it.

The revised bill is scheduled to go before the full Senate this week. Senators will have the opportunity to ask questions before voting on whether to send the bill to the House.

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