TALLAHASSEE -- A short-term benefit package will flow toward South Florida after Thursday’s approval of a plan to improve the health of waterways damaged by releases of excess water from Lake Okeechobee.
The $2.77 million allocation approved by the Legislative Budget Commission is to improve pump stations, reducing the flow of polluted water that has harmed the St. Lucie River, which flows to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caloosahatchee River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico.
The money will also go to a build a channel to aid the flow of water from the Florida Everglades across the barrier of the Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who chairs the commission composed of lawmakers from the House and Senate, said the projects would allow the communities east and west of the lake “to mitigate the damage to the lagoons and estuaries.”
The projects are “all designed to store water on mostly public lands to have additional pumping so that the water goes south,” Negron continued. “And there is a small amount of money to cut a little area in the Tamiami Trail so more water can go south.”
Audubon Florida Legislative Director Mary Jean Yon applauded the allocation.
“If there is a surprise, it’s that they were able to get things going this quickly,” Yon said.
The money, to come from the Water Management Lands Trust Fund, was among a number of short-term fixes by Negron’s Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said the relief would protect property owners, businesses and tourism.
“It’s going to be a tremendous boost, I think, for what we’re doing in trying to correct the last 150 years of some of the things we’ve done in Florida,” added Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.
As a long-term fix, Gov. Rick Scott recently proposed $90 million to lift a 2.6 mile section of the Tamiami Trail to further improve the southward flow of water through the Everglades.
The bridge would break up part of a 10-mile stretch of the road, which since 1928 has been a buffer to the natural flow of water between Lake Okeechobee and the southern Everglades.
The current lake level is 15.44 feet above sea level. The Corps strives to keep it between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet.
The short-term work will shift about 1 billion gallons a day to the south, reducing the amounts expected to be sent east and west.