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State legislature approves bill changing Lake Okeechobee water distribution rules

 Florida Lawmakers Friday passed a controversial measure that affects Lake Okeechobee water distribution rules
Photo courtesy Friends of the Everglades
Florida Lawmakers Friday passed a controversial measure that affects Lake Okeechobee water distribution rules

A bill that started out being widely condemned by environmental interests, and even prompted questions from the Governor, has now been passed by the Florida Legislature.

After a series of amendments on the floor and revisions by a House-Senate conference committee, SB 2508 came out from the conference committee stripped from its attachment to the state budget and won quick approval from lawmakers.

Ryan Rossi, the Director of the South Florida Water Coalition, is pleased with the outcome.

Well I think that the passage of 2508 is a great thing for south Florida communities. There are cities like West Palm Beach that rely heavily on water supply from Lake Okeechobee, it’s one of the primary backup resources," he said. "So this bill ensures that the city of West Palm, in the event that we get a drought, at least knows that they have some assurance that they’re going to get the water that they need.”

Gil Smart, the policy director for Friends of the Everglades is not so pleased. While acknowledging changes have gotten rid of the worst, Friends of the Everglades he said still believes it’s a bad bill.

"It creates a pathway for modernizing water shortage rules as they currently exist," said Smart. "So it’s better in that respect, but we still got a lot of questions. The base line is why politicians in Tallahassee meddling in south Florida water management water shortage rules?”

Rossi says he too is concerned about the environmental impacts of the measure but he believes it provides a balance to the water needs of all.

“We want to make sure that there is a degree of equity on how water is distributed. Certainly the Everglades needs it. Certainly our coastal communities need it. There are others that need it. We just want to make sure that everybody gets the water that they need," said Rossi. "I think that any measure that supports providing supply, particularly in times when there is going to be a shortage that local entities are going to be the ones that are responsible for managing that water since they know the water best, I think that yes, I think that this is a good thing.”

But Smart emphasized that the bill still preserves unfair water rights for big sugar.

“This was an attempt by big sugar and their backers in the legislature to ensure that they got to keep their privileges. And to a large extent, they will," said Smart. "The new language in the bill provides a means by which the Legislature and the Governor might revisit these rules. But will they do so?”

The measure now goes onto the Governor for final action.

West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James has issued statement in support of the SB 2508 “We now ask Governor DeSantis to support this legislation. In line with his historic commitment to Florida’s environment, this legislation enhances Everglades’ restoration and protects the drinking water supply for the people of South Florida.”

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