Congress urged to move water south

OKEECHOBEE — The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, along with many hunting and fishing organizations, is asking Congress to make water conveyance under the Tamiami Trail a priority, in order to relieve flooding in the Everglades and increase the flow of freshwater to Florida Bay.

In an Oct. 10 letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan Speaker, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, conservation and wildlife organizations asked that Congress fully fund the S-333 water control structure expansion:

“As Congress considers legislation to provide relief for communities affected by this year’s catastrophic hurricanes, we understand the top priority is helping communities and people recover as quickly as possible. We ask that you also consider the ecological damages as well and that upcoming disaster relief legislation include funding for restoration in The Everglades. Long-unaddressed issues concerning moving clean water south of Lake Okeechobee persist and pose a threat to public safety, economic viability, and fish and wildlife habitat.

“Specifically, we request Congress fully fund the S-333 water control structure expansion, which would enhance water conveyance along Old Tamiami Trail highway and greatly improve water flow south into Everglades National Park. This project is part of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), is broadly supported by sportsmen and other conservation groups, and would provide far-reaching benefits exceeding its $27 million cost.

“Expansion of the S-333 structure will ensure water is not stacked up along Tamiami Trail and allow water to pass through The Everglades and into Florida Bay. The project will relieve pressure on the Herbert Hoover Dike and reduce stacked water in the Everglades Wildlife Management Area, which impacts wildlife such as white tailed deer and other small game.

Completing this feature, in conjunction with the near-complete bridging of Tamiami Trail, will allow more than seven years of benefits to wildlife, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and will improve a critical evacuation route for South Florida.

“Additionally, we urge Congress to appropriate greater levels of work planning funds to the Army Corps of Engineers to continue implementation of the CEPP and the broader Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP). CERP is the largest environmental restoration program in our nation’s history, and its completion would boost storm resilience and protect water supplies, creating a positive ripple effect throughout the entire state.

“Florida’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism, which sustains nearly $100 billion in annual economic activity. Moreover, the state is a top destination for sportsmen drawn to its famous freshwater bass and saltwater angling waters adjacent to The Everglades and the Florida Keys. Annually, sportsmen support Florida’s $10 billion fishing industry. Increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters exacerbate the existing water conveyance issues in South Florida, jeopardizing the long-term viability of these backbones of Florida’s economy and America’s Everglades.

“Restoration of natural infrastructure in South Florida, such as mangroves and wetlands, is of vital importance to Florida’s tourism and fisheries-based economies, and is essential for storm surge attenuation and protecting coastal communities. Strengthening language from the 2016 WRDA legislation for natural infrastructure projects, which are proven to not only mitigate flood damages but also provide and enhance important fish habitat, should be a priority for Congress.”

The letter was signed by American Fly Fishing Trade Association, American Sportfishing Association, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, B.A.S.S. Conservation, The Billfish Foundation, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, The Everglades Foundation, Fly Fishers International, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation International Game Fish Association, Snook & Gamefish Foundation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Structure S-333 and Tamiami Trail.

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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