Florida Senate committee passes bill ensuring Lake O irrigation water

State water managers who oversee resources for 9 million Floridians were not consulted on a controversial water supply bill a Senate committee approved Wednesday.

SB 2508, which could guarantee agriculture gets the irrigation water it wants to siphon off Lake Okeechobee even when the level is low, will be heard by the Senate Feb. 17.

South Florida Water Management District Chair Chauncey Goss was among the many who addressed to the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

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The St.  Lucie Lock and Dam is where Lake Okeechobee water is released to the St. Louis.  Lucie River.

The district is concerned the bill is “upsetting the balance,” Goss said, in the multiyear process of writing a new Lake O management plan that will determine discharge amounts to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers for the next decade or more.

Why wasn’t the SFWMD looped in before the bill was filed Friday, halfway through the Jan. 11 to March 11 session, asked Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” replied Sen. Ben Albritton, a Bartow Republican who filed the bill as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government.

“But ultimately, they are in the loop today,” Albritton said. “It is our responsibility to do what we believe is right. That’s the way I’d answer that.”

Captains for Clean Water oppose bill

Several South Florida environment groups spoke in opposition to the bill Wednesday.

Critics said the bill would prioritize agriculture over the environment and give preference to other projects over the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, which is designed to reduce Lake O discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee by a combined 63%.

Some also worried about an increase in Lake O discharges, which can pollute those rivers with toxic algae blooms that are dangerous to people, pets and wildlife.

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