Florida fishing captains and Everglades advocates say a bill before the state Legislature could make it harder to prevent the algae blooms that have impacted fishing along the coasts of the Sunshine State in recent years.
The state Senate was scheduled to vote on February 17 on state Senate Bill 2508. Opponents fear the measure will threaten efforts to reduce polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, which flows to the Gulf Coast, and the St. Lucie estuary on the east coast.
Fish kills and poor water quality from the discharges have harmed fishing and tourism.
The legislation would force the agencies that manage Lake Okeechobee to make sure farmers, most growing sugarcane, have enough water for their crops, or risk losing state funds for projects meant to ease the polluted discharges to the coasts, the Miami Herald reported.
Among the projects is the ongoing construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, which is meant to contain and clean poor-quality overflows from Lake Okeechobee, reducing the need for discharges. The reservoir is also meant to provide needed water to the Everglades.
“This bill is yet another case of bad water policy that will lead to incalculable economic and environmental losses that harm all Floridians,” says a Captains for Clean Water petition. The petition gathered over 30,000 signatures, and the organization’s members packed the Senate Appropriations Committee on February 9 to submit it.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis also opposes the bill. “SB 2508 is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark,” He said in a statement on February 10. “I have been a champion for Everglades restoration and oppose any measure that derails progress on reducing harmful discharges and sending more water to the Everglades. Moreover, I reject any attempt to deprioritize the EAA Reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.”
The leaders of the state Senate deny the bill would threaten funding for the reservoir or prioritize agricultural diversions over reducing Okechobee discharges to the coasts, TCPalm.com reported.