Legislation was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that could help alleviate the environmental crisis plaguing Florida's coastal waters, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, and, by extension, Florida Bay.
In passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the House by an overwhelming 399-25 vote included $1.9 billion in critical funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project, as well as authorization for waterway access improvements and the use of natural infrastructure wherever possible.
In a nutshell, coastal waters on both sides of the state have been damaged by nutrient-rich waters discharged out of Okeechobee, which feed massive blue-green algal blooms. Before man's interference, high water at the Big O flowed naturally south in the Everglades, where it was filtered, even as it sustained life there. From there, it provided vital fresh water to Florida Bay.
But levees were built to prevent flooding around the lake and allow for development south of it. And that required discharging the water east and west.
“The sportfishing industry recognizes that it is vital for the Florida Everglades to receive funding as soon as possible to expedite the implementation of multi-year projects that will help fix the water quality and water management challenges that plague south Florida,” said American Sportfishing Association Government Affairs Vice President Scott Gudes. “These projects have been through an extensive review process and will provide significant environmental benefits by moving more water south from Lake Okeechobee. We encourage Congress to conference quickly on a final bill so that appropriations and construction can begin as soon as possible.” Gary Jennings, Keep Florida Fishing manager, added, “These projects will bring much-needed relief to our state’s estuary systems.
"Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World, and we thank lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate for recognizing the urgent need for measures that will have a major positive impact on fisheries conservation, ecosystem restoration and water quality.”
In a joint statement, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) expressed confidence that reconciling the differing versions of WRDA reauthorization in conference will be relatively easy.
"The strong, bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives is a clear sign that we can reconcile the House and Senate bills swiftly and smoothly," they said.