The water crisis Florida has faced over the last two years isn’t over. Today, solutions for our rivers, our fish habitat and our economy lie in the hands of Governor Scott and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) who are responsible for the implementation of the EAA Reservoir. The root of the problem goes back over a century to when the Everglades was dammed, ditched and drained; but weather patterns the last few years have highlighted the flaws in our water management system as billions of gallons of polluted waters were discharged into our rivers as the Everglades faced wildfires and drought.
The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers were plagued with damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee which disrupted our economy during the height of tourist season costing millions, meanwhile Florida Bay suffered a 40,000-acre seagrass die-off due to lack of flow from the Everglades that started in 2015.
Businesses, residents and visitors alike joined forces to push for a solution to this problem. Captains for Clean Water and our partners brought stakeholders from across the state, from realtors to hotel owners and even executives from major fishing tackle corporations to the State Capitol to stress the urgency of expediting a critical Everglades restoration project- the EAA Reservoir. Led by Senate President Joe Negron, the Florida Senate introduced legislation to authorize and fund the EAA Reservoir- Senate Bill 10. The plan faced opposition from the sugarcane industry which employed dozens of the state’s most powerful lobbyists to oppose the bill. Nonetheless, we still had a legislative victory that provides $800 million for the reservoir project, that could alleviate Lake Okeechobee discharges by as much as 50 percent when coupled with the previously authorized restoration projects, and provide Florida Bay with clean freshwater to mitigate future seagrass die-offs.
Today, we are working hard on the implementation phase of Senate Bill 10. We face challenges with how the SFWMD is carrying out the task it has been given by the Legislature. The Legislature approved a project cost of $1.6 billion, with the state’s portion of that being $800 million, and directed the district to evaluate the optimal configuration for the reservoir within that price tag.
Governor Scott has consistently championed holding government accountable when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. He created a website where citizens can see how taxpayer dollars are being spent where he says, “My plan for accountability budgeting will help you exercise your right to hold government accountable. We will adopt transparent, outcome-based budgets so that you can measure results and hold government accountable.”
But when it comes to the reservoir, the SFWMD has come up with only two basic configurations for the EAA Reservoir, both of which limit the design to land the state already owns instead of what the project actually requires and neither of which takes into account cost.
More than seven months have passed since SB 10 was signed into law. After eight public meetings about the project, no one at the SFWMD can answer the question of how much their proposals for the EAA Reservoir cost. The bureaucrats conducting these meetings wear red tape like pageant sashes, talking down to meeting attendees (literally) and providing excuses for why they cannot do as they’ve been told – evaluate the optimal configuration for the reservoir that fits within our budget.
Ultimately, the fix for this lies in the hands of Governor Rick Scott who appointed each and every member of the SFWMD’s Governing Board. He has the power to make this project a success by acknowledging the need to increase the size and treatment capacity of the reservoir and hold his appointees accountable for the spending of taxpayer dollars.