Fla. agency blasts Army Corps plan to speed up reservoir

This article originally appeared on Greenwire, August 4, 2016

Lake_Okeechobee800wBy Tiffany Stecker

The South Florida Water Management District told top Army Corps of Engineers officials today that speeding up the timeline for a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee would likely hamper development on existing Everglades restoration projects.

The district’s governing board chairman, Dan O’Keefe, said the corps’ suggestion to accelerate the study to build the reservoir from 2021 “is a distraction … and could prove harmful to ongoing restoration efforts.”

A reservoir south of the lake in the sugar-growing Everglades Agricultural Area would carry excess water in rain-heavy years like this one. The rains this spring overflowed into the St. Lucie Canal from Okeechobee to the Atlantic Coast, creating bright-green algae blooms in the area just as the tourism high season hit.

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy told Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) last week that she would work to bring federal funds to study a reservoir.

“The Army is prepared to initiate this study quickly, once a non-federal sponsor for the study is identified,” she wrote.

The SFWMD is typically that sponsor. But O’Keefe told Darcy in his letter that three other projects should precede the EAA reservoir — the Lake Okeechobee Watershed study north of the lake, the Loxahatchee River Watershed restoration study and the Western Everglades Restoration Project.

Last week, hundreds of Floridians attended an Army Corps meeting on the Lake Okeechobee Watershed study to ask that the two projects occur in tandem.

“We can do more than one thing at a time, we can walk and chew gum,” said Rae Ann Wessel, natural resource policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Twitter: @TiffanyStecker Email: tstecker@eenews.net