Everglades restoration scored an important victory yesterday, with the passing of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 by the U.S. House of Representatives.
This biennial (every two years) bill prioritizes all federal water projects in the U.S. and is the first step in finding federal funding for those projects.
Getting WRDA passed wasn’t easy or without controversy, but it moved surprisingly fast this week and now heads to the U.S. Senate for approval where it’s expected to pass as is, before being presented to the President for his signature.
Earlier this year, special interests attempted to sneak harmful language into this bill while the world was distracted by Covid-19. If their efforts had been successful, the passing of WRDA 2020 would’ve tied the hands of water managers regarding Lake Okeechobee release decisions.
We fought hard to bring this scheme to your attention and thousands of you took action by urging Congress to reject their efforts. Guess what? It worked!
This essential bill for Everglades restoration and public protection could’ve included bad news for our estuaries, but because you took action and made your voice heard with your representatives across the nation, the harmful language was halted and protections and beneficial provisions were added.
The passing of WRDA and all it supports is a prime example of why your voice is so important in drawing national attention to Everglades restoration and helping pressure other states to prioritize and seek federal funding for these projects. Together, we can get things accomplished!
Included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 are the following provisions:
- The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) is in the process of rewriting management guidelines for the lake, known as the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). The bill mandates the Corps minimize discharges to both estuaries as part of the new LOSOM guidelines.
- Instructs the ACOE, to the maximum extent practicable, to coordinate with the ongoing efforts of Federal and State agencies that are responsible for monitoring, forecasting and notifying of cyanobacteria levels in Lake Okeechobee.
- Calls for the ACOE to accelerate construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir by not considering it a “New Start” project.
- Prioritizes the Loxahatchee Watershed Restoration Project to help restore the natural flow of the river while improving aquatic ecosystems and vegetation.
- The removal of the cap on costs for the C-43 Reservoir on the western side of Lake Okeechobee. When complete, the C-43 Reservoir is designed to collect stormwater runoff and a portion of Lake Okeechobee discharges during the wet season when flows can cause harmful algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee River Estuary. More water will be released during the dry season when it’s needed to prevent saltwater intrusion.
The passing of WRDA 2020 is a big deal because it’s not always guaranteed to occur in a timely manner. In the past, WRDA has taken up to 8 years to get House and Senate approval, but 2020 is the third consecutive year that WRDA has been passed in the scheduled 2-year timeline. That’s a sign that water projects are taking a priority in U.S. politics.