Last week, the Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin held its inaugural meeting/workshop in Stuart, Florida.  The Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Negron (Stuart), was convened to explore short- and long term solutions to reduce the impacts from the freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.   Senators heard testimony from several panels of experts including U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy, DEP Secretary Hershel Vinyard, ACOE District Commander Alan Dodd, and SFWMD Interim Director Ernie Barnett.  Other panelists included representatives from the Everglades Foundation, Florida Oceanographic Society, Audubon Florida, and U.S. Sugar Corporation.  Indeed, FAC was also well represented with Commissioners Heard (Martin) Zorc (Indian River) and Dzadovsky (St. Lucie) providing valuable insight.

Panelists discussed a number of water quantity alternatives ranging from dispersed water management to ACOE approval of higher lake levels to “balance” the risk of a breach with the risk to estuarine functions.  Water quality discussions also presented alternatives from fertilizer and septic tank management to additional treatment facilities on vast farmlands.  After the workshop, Chairman Negron announced four action items for the committee:

“First, the 2008 risk assessment, used by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the release schedules, needs to be reviewed. We need to take a look, reevaluate, regroup, make sure the assessment is based on the latest evidence, balancing the risk of overflow against the certainty of what has happened in our communities.

Second, I’m committed 100 percent to looking at where we can store water before it comes in to our community. Water storage is job number one we aren’t waiting months or years. Let’s see where we can store it and how much it will cost.” continued Chair Negron.

Third, we will legally evaluate how the declaration of a state of emergency would impact Florida’s ability to work with the federal government to address the ongoing releases.

And fourth, at the suggestion of our Vice Chair, Senator Montford, we recognize the tremendous impact of septic tanks. We agree we all have a responsibility to the environment, and we will investigate how the problem can be addressed, if, and only if, we can do so in a manner that is completely consistent with the rights of private property owners.”

Details about the next meeting of the Select Committee should be announced in the coming weeks. The full Senate will begin regularly scheduled committee weeks in late September.   For more information on the Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, please visit the Select Committee website at:

http://www.flsenate.gov/topics/irllob

In the meantime, Governor Rick Scott has pledged to spend more state money in an effort to clean-up pollution being discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary.  The Governor has styated that he will budget an additional $40 million in 2014 as a part of a much larger project to help store water. 

It has also been reported that Governor Scott will announce another $90 million commitment over three years to continue building the next phase of the two-and-a-half-mile-long Tamiami Trail bridge project. Scott’s office did not release details on Tuesday of where the $90 million would come from.