As Lake Okeechobee continues to rank as one of nation's best bass fisheries, discharges of its nutrient-rich waters to the east and west are feeding toxic algae blooms that devastate ecosystems on both Florida coasts. And the same time, the Everglades to the south slowly is dying of thirst.
With this year arguably the worst ever for algae blooms, many are demanding quick and decisive action. One of those is new Florida state Senate President Joe Negron, who recently promised to push for a solution that is opposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the sugar industry.
Negron wants to buy 60,000 acres used to grow sugar cane to build a $2.4 billion reservoir to hold Okeechobee water that now is discharged via man-made diversions to both coasts. From the reservoir, it would be released into the Everglades, after pollutants settled to the bottom.
"We must buy land south," he said. "That's what I believe is the next step forward."
Before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led the way in building dikes and replumbing to allow for development and minimize flooding decades ago, that's where water flowed naturally. As the Everglades was replenished, it served as a filter for the water on its way to Florida Bay.
In response to Negron's announcement, the Everglades Foundation said, "This project is vital to re-connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Keys. By storing, cleaning and sending Lake Okeechobee water south, the project significantly reduces the amount of polluted water being dumped east and west."
The environmental organization also called Negron "an Everglades champion." And it added, "He has placed his political capital on the table in an effort to not only bring relief to his constituency along the east coast, but to begin a project that will provide significant benefits to America's Everglades."
Scott, meanwhile, favors using property the state already owns to finally finish other Everglades restoration reservoirs and water treatment areas.
"We are reviewing his (Negron's) proposal and will continue to review all options that will help with water quality in our state," the governor's office said in a statement released as a response to the new Senate president. "We look forward to working with the legislature as session approaches."