Members of Congress asked to protect Florida water supply

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — What will happen to South Florida’s water supply under the new Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual (LOSOM) currently under development by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

In an April 28 letter to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the the Palm Beach County Business Development Board, asked the congressman to protect Florida’s water supply.

Ms. Smallridge said the corps is failing to protect Florida’s critical water supply.

“In 2000, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA 2000), authorizing an ecological restoration plan for America’s Everglades ecosystem. Today, we know it as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). CERP directed the corps and the State of Florida, as the local sponsor, to restore our natural environment, while providing for our water-related needs, including water supply for people and businesses. CERP was historic. It passed after the State of Florida, the corps, and diverse businesses, municipalities, farmers and environmental groups spent nearly a decade developing it. Many of the undersigned were involved in the passage of CERP and all of us are committed to its success.

“We recently learned, though, that the corps is ignoring a critical feature of WRDA 2000, the Savings Clause. The Savings Clause directs the corps to protect the water supply that was in place in 2000, as it restores the environment. When Congress passed WRDA 2000, it included Lake Okeechobee as part of WRDA. This was an essential element then, and it just as important now.”

Similar concerns were voiced in an April 23 letter to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in an April 23 letter signed by a diverse group of city and county government agencies, utilities, farmers, businesses and other stakeholders.

The letter notes WRDA 2000 protected the water supply.

“Today, 20 years after Congress spoke, the corps’ position is that it will not protect the legal uses of water in place in 2000,” the group wrote.

“The corps claims the lake is not part of WRDA 2000, and therefore the water supply protections in the Savings Clause will not apply. This position is not supported by WRDA 2000 and betrays the promises the corps made to us in 2000,” the letter continues. “The corps seeks to unilaterally free itself of complying with WRDA 2000. If allowed to do so, Florida’s existing and future water supply will be jeopardized at a time when we need assurances that sufficient water will be available to everyone.”

The letter was signed by:
City of West Palm Beach,
City of Okeechobee,
City of Clewiston,
Glades County,
Okeechobee County,
Lake Worth Drainage District,
Southeast Florida Utility Council,
Okeechobee Utility Authority,
Florida Section of the American Water Works Utility Council,
Florida H2O Coalition,
Florida Chamber of Commerce,
Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches,
Associated Industries of Florida,
Okeechobee Business Alliance,
Economic Council of Okeechobee,
Roland and Mary Ann Martin,
Florida Agriculture Coalition,
Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association,
Florida Citrus Mutual,
Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association,
Florida Cattlemen’s Association,
Florida Agribusiness Council,
Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association,
Florida Land Council,
Turfgrass Producers of Florida,
Southeast Milk Inc.,
Wedgeworth Farms, Keith Wedworth, president;
Lykes Brothers,
King Ranch,
Frontier Produce,
A. Duda and Sons,
Florida Crystals Corporation,
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative,
Florida Farm Bureau Federation,
Palm Beach Soil and Water Conservation District,
Broward County Farm Bureau, Fred Segal, president,
Dade County Farm Bureau, Tom Rider, president,
Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, Glenn Whitworth Jr., president
Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, Keith Wedgworth, president,
Lee County Farm Bureau, Ricky Pritchett, president,
St. Lucie County Farm Bureau, Courtney Forget, president,
Indian River County Farm Bureau, Ashley Cox, president,
Osceola County Farm Bureau, Herb Harbin, president,
Highlands County Farm Bureau, Jeff Williams, president,
Collier County Farm Bureau, Kevin Seitzinger, president,
Hendry/Glades County Farm Bureau, Callie Walker, president,
Martin County Farm Bureau, Reed Hartman, president,
Okeechobee County Farm Bureau, Mickey Bandi, president,
Greg Munson, former assistant secretary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)
Jon Steverson, former secretary, FDEP
Ryan Matthews, former interim secretary, FDEP,
Henry Dean, former executive director, South Florida Water Management District.

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