Friday, May 12, 2017

Everglades Reservoir law is an improvement, but we can't let up the fight

Another Year in the Pines, Everglades NP. Photo by Paul Marcellini

Everglades Reservoir bill becomes law
Sierra Club backed legislation but urges vigilance


Statement of Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone:

Sierra Club supported the Everglades Reservoir bill, which the Governor signed this week. We backed the bill because, on balance, its passage benefited the Everglades and Florida's coastal waters.

The law funding construction of a reservoir will help reduce Lake Okeechobee freshwater discharges that have been producing toxic algae in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, as well as send clean freshwater south to replenish aquifers, the Everglades and Florida Bay. Restoring these freshwater flows to the south will also improve the resiliency of South Florida from sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.

House and Senate leaders improved the final version of SB 10 by removing earlier provisions that would have used Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) revenue to fund Phase I of the C-51 water supply project and other inappropriate uses of voter mandated funding set aside for conservation and recreational land protection. Unfortunately, the bill still includes the LATF as a potential funding source for Phase II of the C-51 reservoir, which would be an impermissible expenditure of funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund under Article X, Section 28 of the Florida Constitution. We continue to oppose funding for all water supply projects from LATF monies.

While the new law speeds up the process for storing water on public land south of the Lake, it failed to provide any of the 60,000 acres of additional sugar land requested in the original bill for water storage, treatment and conveyance. The law also prohibits the state from using the power of eminent domain to acquire sugar lands, an important tool sometimes necessary to protect the Everglades, prevent ecological collapse, and preserve the water supply for 6 million people. The law forces more water to be stacked up in a smaller footprint, driving up costs and limiting options. We also remain very concerned that the South Florida Water Management District plans to rely on Aquifer Storage and Recovery and Deep Injection Wells north of the Lake instead of buying more land and building adequate above ground storage, which would provide more ecological benefits in line with Everglades restoration goals.

We are very pleased however that the law provides training programs and preference for Lakeside residents to secure jobs building the new reservoir.

We hope that this is just the beginning of serious efforts to transition the Lakeside communities to a diversified, stronger economy that protects its vast natural resources and public health.

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The House passed the measure with a 99-19 vote; the Senate passed it 33-0.

The Governor signed SB 10 into law on May 9, 2017

Details of SB 10:

Accelerates the state's 20-year goal of storing water south of Lake Okeechobee.

Requires SFWMD to develop a project plan for an Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir that provides at least 240,000 acre-feet (about 78 billion gallons) of water storage by utilizing the A-2 parcel (14,000 acres of state-owned land), land swaps, early termination of leases, and land acquisition.

Provides for at least two-thirds of the water storage capacity of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) Component G.

Allows the A-1 parcel to remain a Flow Equalization Basin (FEB) as provided for in the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), or to be utilized for the EAA Reservoir if SFWMD can provide for at least 360,000 acre-feet of water storage.

Requires SFWMD to include increased canal conveyance improvements, if needed, and features to meet water quality standards in the EAA Reservoir project.  

Provides deadlines for submitting the plan to Congress as a post-authorization change report, which will seek approval of the use of the A-2 parcel in a different manner than was authorized in CEPP.

If the Corps has not approved the post-authorization change report and submitted it to Congress by October 1, 2018 or the post-authorization change report is not approved by Congress by December 31, 2019, SFWMD must request the Corps to develop a project implementation report for the EAA Reservoir Project located somewhere else.

Prohibits the use of eminent domain to obtain privately held land.

Provides for termination of the U.S. Sugar option agreement prior to the October 2020 expiration date if the post-authorization change report receives congressional approval or SFWMD certifies to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House that acquisition of the land necessary for the EAA reservoir project has been completed.

Authorizes the use of Florida Forever bonds in an amount of up to $800 million for the costs of land acquisition, planning and construction of the EAA reservoir project.

Appropriates $30 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to the Everglades Trust Fund, in the 2017-18 fiscal year, for the purposes of acquiring land or negotiating leases to implement or for planning or construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project.

Appropriates $3 million from the LATF to the Everglades Trust Fund in the 2017-18 fiscal year for the development of the CEPP post-authorization change report.

Amends the LATF distribution to include $64 million of additional funding for the EAA reservoir project.

Appropriates $30 million from the General Revenue Trust Fund to the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund to provide a loan for implementation of Phase I of the C-51 reservoir project.

Appropriates $1 million from the LATF to the Everglades Trust Fund in the 2017-18 fiscal year for the purpose of negotiating Phase II of the C-51 reservoir and provides the LATF as a potential funding source for the implementation of Phase II of the C-51 reservoir.

Creates the water storage facility revolving loan fund and requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt rules for its implementation.

Creates the Everglades Restoration Agricultural Community Employment Training Program within the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to provide grants to stimulate and support training and employment programs that seek to re-train and employ displaced agricultural workers.

Requires SFWMD to give preferential hiring treatment to displaced agricultural workers, consistent with their qualifications and abilities, for construction and operation of the EAA reservoir project.

Terminates the inmate labor work program on state-owned lands in the EAA.

Important deadlines:

By July 1, 2017 SFWMD must request that the US Army Corps jointly develop a post-authorization change report for the Central Everglades Planning Project to revise the A-2 parcel element of the project.

By July 31, 2017, SFWMD must contact the lessors and landowners of 3,200 acres of state-owned land and 500 acres of privately-owned land just west of the A-2 parcel. SFWMD must express interest in acquiring this land through purchase, exchange, or terminating leases.

If the US Army Corps agrees to begin developing the post-authorization report, work on the report must begin by August 1, 2017.

SFWMD must report the status of the post-authorization change report to Fla Legislature by January 9, 2018.

SFWMD and Corps must submit the post-authorization change report to Congress by October 1, 2018.*

The post-authorization change report must be approved by Congress by December 1, 2019.*

*If these two deadlines are not met (and no extension is granted), then the SFWMD must request that the Corps initiate the planning for the EAA Reservoir project that will result in a new Project Implementation Report (PIR) and may continue to build CEPP components as planned in the 2014 PIR.


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