A new report is encouraging lawmakers to look study the impact Lake Okeechobee water releases have on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The call for a study was just one of the priorities outlined in a new report released by the the James Madison Institute on Monday. The paper —written byDan Peterson, the director of the Center for Property Rights at the James Madison Institute — is a follow-up to recommendations for Amendment 1 funding allocations, and is meant to help Floridians understand the restoration process.
“In light of the enormity of Everglades restoration and the matrix of multiple projects at various stages of completion, it is easy to get lost in the weeds of detail and miss the big picture,” said Peterson. “Through this report, JMI gives guidance to policymakers and concerned Floridians to help them cut through the web of complexity, remain on track and help keep focus where it should be to effectively preserve and protect Florida’s precious resources.”
Among the prioritiesoutlined in his report, Peterson said the state should conduct a study to “determine the impact of the regulatory releases of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries” The study should also look at the impact of local runoff, such as residential fertilizers, septic systems and storm water runoff.
“The impact on marine life and aquatic plants due to the changes in salinity deserves attention. It would also be of benefit to study potential catalysts, which might accelerate the recovery of these areas after release,” he wrote.
Widespread algae blooms have plagued the Treasure Coast, and many environmental activists and community leaders believe the discharges from Lake Okeechobee are to blame. The South Florida Water Management District has said the discharges aren’t the sole contributor to the blue-green algae, saying the nutrients can also come from local runoff and septic tanks.
But the spread of algae has prompted concern from state and federal officials. Gov.Rick Scottdeclared a state of emergencyin Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties, andhas askedPresidentBarack Obamato declare a federal state of emergency.
The Naples Republican has also announcedplans to set aside moneyto help clean up the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River in his 2017-18 budget. That money would be used to help fund a grant program that would, among other things, encourage people to move off of septic systems.
While the report touches on the Lake Okeechobee water releases, its primarily focuses on larger Everglades restoration efforts.In the report, Peterson said Amendment 1 dollars should continue to be used for restoration efforts.
“Predictable, stable, recurring funds make long-range, expensive, complicated projects more realistic,” he wrote. “The wording of Amendment 1 is unambiguous and authorizes funding to be directed toward Everglades restoration. The proper allocation of these funds will help restore precious state resources and retain Florida’s beauty.”
Peterson suggested the state take steps to make sure the public is kept informed of taxpayer-funded projects. He also said the state should finish projects and plan new ones north of Lake Okeechobee under plans approved by the Florida Legislature.
And Peterson said water quality projects “must be based on scientific data.” A reliance on scientific data would “prevent wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on theoretical projects that might make little or no contribution toward solving the problems at hand.”
In recent months, there have been renewed calls for the state to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee to help move water south. However, Peterson cautioned against buying more land.
With more than 29 percent of Florida land already in government ownership for conservation purposes, Peterson said “there is no shortage of conservation land.” Instead, Peterson said the “limited state and federal funds would be better used implementing the multi-billion dollar backlog of restoration projects on land that has already been acquired for that purpose.”
“People are looking for immediate relief and that’s understandable. These are trying times for Florida,” he said. “That’s why it has never been more critical to ensure available funds are used wisely and in a way that will have a long-term and significant impact.”