Reservoir plan faces ‘speed bumps’ and potential ‘brick wall’

OKEECHOBEE — The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir plan proposed by Florida Senate Bill 10 in 2016 has been approved by Congress and President Donald Trump. It awaits a federal funding appropriation.

The modified water deliveries envisioned in the consent order were based on the idea to restore more of the natural sheet flow. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/SFWMD.

At the Nov. 8 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, SFWMD General Counsel Brian Accardo said there are other potential issues outside of the district’s control that could cause delays.

He said the EAA reservoir plans must still pass some “speed bumps” and face a potential “brick wall.”

• The Department of Environmental Protection has not yet amended the leases on the land it controls within the EAA reservoir footprint. This must be done for the project to move forward.

• SFWMD must enter into a Pre-partnership Credit Agreement (PPCA) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The PPCA would preserve the district’s ability to get cost credit for any site work. Without a PPCA, state will be at risk of not getting credit for site work as part of the state’s 50 percent project match.

• The state is still waiting for congressional authorization for the Central Everglades Planning Project, which will move water south from the EAA reservoir under the Tamiami Trail to Everglades National Park. Without CEPP, the EAA reservoir will be static storage. It can be built without CEPP, but during the rainy season it will quickly fill up from direct rainfall and local runoff, and there will be little capacity to accept water from Lake Okeechobee.

• The Federal New Starts Law has added a new step in the process. Every piece of the project has to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget.

• The 1991 agreement between the federal government, the State of Florida and SFWMD, commonly called the “consent decree,” could limit the SFWMD’s ability to operate the project. The EAA reservoir and CEPP will change the way water moves in the system, sending more water to Shark River Slough. The consent decree was based on a plan that water would be restored to a more natural sheetflow.

• The Florida Wildlife Federation filed a lawsuit over use of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

Under Senate Bill 10, the State of Florida plans to take $64 million a year out of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and use that money for reservoir bonding of $800 million. The federation sued the state over the way the state is using the money, Mr. Accardo explained.

He said the argument is that when a lot of people voted for the 2014 constitutional amendment to create the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, the money was supposed to be used for acquiring land or improving land, such as restoration projects.

“The environmentalists received a favorable ruling in June,” he said. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled that the Land Acquisition Trust Fund can only be used for acquisition of new land and can only be used for improving land purchased after 2015. “That kills this reservoir, because that land we are going to construct this reservoir on was acquired decades ago. The state has appealed the ruling, and it will go to an appeals court,” he said.

If the state loses the appeal, the EAA reservoir plan will hit a brick wall, he said.

 

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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