News Feature | March 17, 2017

Florida Considers $3.3 Billion For Clean Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

everglades reg new.jpg

Florida lawmakers are in the midst of a heated debate on how much they should spend to keep toxic algae out of waterways.

Earlier this month, the Florida Senate advanced S.B. 10, a giant water resources bill that is raising eyebrows because it is costlier than lawmakers originally intended.

“A Senate plan to bond $1.2 billion in state funds to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee grew to become a $3.3 billion bonding program that would fund dozens of water projects around the state — from sewage treatment in Tampa Bay to wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys,” The Miami Herald reported.

The main proposal in the bill is building a reservoir that would store water and send it through purifying stormwater treatment processes before it goes to the Everglades, preventing harmful discharges into estuaries, the report said. The water would eventually flow into Florida Bay, “where sea grass beds have been dying because of the lack of fresh water,” the report said.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican, spoke out in favor of the legislation, citing the threat of toxic algae.

“Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee have flooded communities on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers with massive amounts of toxic algae that destroyed estuaries and harmed the local and state economies. Unfortunately, [incidents] like these are not unique in our state and are a symptom of the lack of attention to water resource development. The lost summer must be a wakeup call for all Floridians,” he said, per Sunshine State News.

Some of the funding would benefit wastewater treatment systems, according to the report. The bill contains provisions “that encourage reuse by establishing a water reuse grant program, specifically to assist wastewater treatment facilities to expand capacity to make reclaimed water available for reuse,” the report said.

The legislation would also “establish a new revolving loan financing program to help the state, water management districts and local governments address water quality issues,” Law360 reported.

Critics say too much of the money would benefit South Florida over other parts of state, according to Florida Politics. In addition, some environmentalists say it would nab money devoted to land conservation projects and funnel it to water programs, according to WUSF Public Media.

The backdrop is that Florida is fighting an uphill battle against toxic algae.

“The algae blooms of 2013 were so severe the event became known as Toxic Summer. And [last year’s] outbreak has so thoroughly spread through delicate estuaries on both coasts that Florida officials declared a state of emergency in four counties. Toxic sludge has killed fish, shellfish, and at least one manatee and has sickened people who have touched it,” National Geographic reported.

Image credit: "Everglades NP in Florida," Reinhard Link © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/