Battle Over Who Controls Lake Okeechobee Continues: Will it Be the Feds or Florida?

Battle Over Who Controls Lake Okeechobee Continues: Will it Be the Feds or Florida?

Javier Manjarres
Javier Manjarres
|
February 10, 2022

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joined the fray over Senate Budget Bill 2508 by voicing his dissatisfaction over allegations that were made accusing Senate Republicans of cutting out predetermined $1.9 billion Everglades Agriculture Area Reservoir (EAA) funding approved back in 2017.

“I have been a champion for Everglades restoration and oppose any measure that derails progress on reducing harmful discharges and sending more water to the Everglades,” DeSantis said. “Moreover, I reject any attempt to deprioritize the EAA Reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee. Rather than advancing legislation seeking to affect a major change in policy, SB 2508 is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark.”

But just as Gov. DeSantis pushed back against the budget measure, Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) defended his bipartisan-supported legislation, releasing a statement pushing back against Gov. DeSantis, and arguing that his bill “does not in any way reverse or hinder Everglades restoration.”

“Our Senate bill does not in any way reverse or hinder Everglades restoration and is entirely consistent with current policy. In fact, the bill protects existing state funding for the EAA Reservoir and cements into state law current successful water management practices that Joe Biden’s federal government is looking to change,” said President Simpson. The bill makes it clear that the South Florida Water Management District needs to advocate for our state water interests, under current law – not whatever the Biden Administration wants to do.

"No Senator has to check in with a state agency before filing a bill. I report to the people of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco Counties, not appointed bureaucrats," added Simpson.

On Wednesday, members of the Senate Appropriations committee denied that EAA Reservoir money would be cut, citing a section of the bill, Section 6, which directs the state to continue funding the Everglades restoration projects as approved under Senate Bill 10 in 2017. Among these projects is the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

During this week’s Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, individuals from both sides of the argument made their respective cases to the committee.

At several points in the discussion, several environmental activists entered into heated exchanges with members of the committee, claiming that the bill would set back Everglades restoration.

“I believe you've been misled. I believe that asking for more accountability from an agency that receives 70 percent of their funding from the state of Florida, that's good government. That's good government. And we have the right and the opportunity to do that,” said Sen. Ben Albritton (R), who chairs the Agriculture, Environment, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.

While much of the discussion centered on Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee discharge, none of the environmental groups addressed the section of the bill that pushes back against federal attempts to increase control of Florida’s water supply.

Prior to the dustup in the Florida Senate, the South Florida Water Management District had been seeking to maintain control of water in Lake Okeechobee during dry periods. A January story in the TC Palm noted, “SFWMD Assistant Executive Director John Mitnik asked the Army Corps for ‘explicit reliance’ on the state agency when the lake level falls to that level, so it can ensure irrigation and drinking water supplies to various stakeholders.”

Javier Manjarres

Javier Manjarres

Javier Manjarres is a nationally renowned award-winning political journalist and Publisher of Floridianpress.com, Hispolitica.com, shark-tank.com, and Texaspolitics.com He enjoys traveling, playing soccer, mixed martial arts, weight-lifting, swimming, and biking. Javier is also a political consultant and has also authored "BROWN PEOPLE," which is a book about Hispanic Politics. Follow on Twitter: @JavManjarres Email him at [email protected]

Subscribe to the newsletter everyone in Florida is reading.

Thank you for your interest in receiving the The Floridian newsletter. To subscribe, please submit your email address below.