Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today discussed Florida water issues, specifically the “blue-green algae” overgrowth in the Treasure Coast, in an interview with WJNO West Palm Beach’s Joel Malkin. Rubio is scheduled to visit the Treasure Coast tomorrow to tour the region and examine the problem firsthand.
Yesterday, Rubio urged the Army Corps of Engineers to take immediate action, including stopping discharges from Lake Okeechobee, to help Florida’s Treasure Coast, which is currently experiencing a harmful algal bloom.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
West Palm Beach’s WJNO News Radio Interview with Joel Malkin
June 30, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “We’ve been on [the algae issue] now for three years since the last time it happened. None of the answers are always satisfactory because they take time to make happen but a lot of the focus is on the water being held in Lake Okeechobee. Everybody wants the Corps of Engineers to hold water back. The problem there is the Corps of Engineers has blinders on. Their focus is to ensure that there isn’t a breach, they don’t want to see flooding, that’s their number one concern. And so as a result, they’re working through projects to replace 26 of the culverts and reinforce the aging dyke. They have 18 under contract; they have another eight that will be in contract over the next four years.
“But here’s the catch, even if all of that is improved, it will make the dyke stronger, but they still intend to release as much water, especially in the rainy season because they also argue that it’s bad for the ecology of Lake Okeechobee to have too much water there. So that’s the problem there.
“So what is the answer? The ultimate answer here is to allow more water, instead of being discharged East and West, to be discharged into the Everglades. And that’s why this year, I’ve been working on this for a couple of years, I finally got my colleague from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, to agree to the Central Everglades Planning Project.
“The purpose of that is to deliver a finalized plan, known as the Project Implementation Report that will then allow Congress to authorize a bunch of restoration projects in the central everglades, in what they call the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. So we got that passed, it’s now in the bill. It obviously has to happen in the full Senate and on the floor again. We have to get all that done. We’ve made some progress there as a result of it.
“Again, everything moves at a glacial pace around here in this place, but at least we overcame that hurdle.”
When asked who will be able to get something done about this issue, Rubio answered…
“The Corps of Engineers is from the Army, so obviously they respond to the Commander in Chief, but from an engineering standpoint, these guys are not responsive to political pressure. Their view is, ‘We’re not going to let the dyke ever be compromised, and that’s our number one job, to ensure there isn’t a massive flood that happens if the dyke fails.’ And that’s what they’re focused on. They get it, they see the algae bloom stuff, but that’s not their mandate. It’s part of the issue you have in the federal government with all the different silos.
“I know none of these answers are satisfactory. My understanding is that they may be holding back more water now, today and tomorrow. But even if they did, this will happen again until we can get more water flowing South instead of East and West. And that’s why this Everglades funding is important and these projects have to move forward. You know there’s an additional project that’s called the Ten Mile Project that was originally a federal project, that’s kind of like a retention pond, basically.
“The contractor the federal government hired screwed it up and so it can’t hold as much water as it was supposed to. I took that project away from the federal government. I gave it to the state; the state is already improving it. It’ll be able to hold a little bit more water and that will help a little bit. But ultimately there is only one way to keep this from happening over and over again, and that is to get more water released South. And for that to happen, we have got to get the Everglades restoration project moving. And that’s why I spent two years on my colleague Jim Inhofe, a good friend from Oklahoma, who didn’t want to do it, to finally agree to do it. It was a big step, now we have got to get it done. And we keep pushing to get full passage in the House and Senate because I’m pretty sure the President will sign it.”
When asked about efforts on the Nelson-Rubio Biscayne National Park bill that passed a Senate committee yesterday, Rubio responded…
“The coral reefs there and the reefs in that area are very important and we want to protect them. We also want to see more input from Fish and Wildlife in the state in that regard. They’ve closed off a vast area to recreational fishing, the plan they put together went too far. At a minimum there should be more input from the Fish and Wildlife because these things interact with one another.
“Senator Nelson and I got together, we work very well together, and we finally came up with this compromise that doesn’t give the Florida Fish and Wildlife a veto over any sort of plan that comes out of the federal government, but it does allow them to have more formal input about what the plan looks like. We think if that works in Biscayne Bay, it will work everywhere.
“Look, I’m an avid fisherman; we’re out all the time. We’re in Flamingo in the Everglades, we go out to Biscayne Bay, we’re down in the Keys. There is no one who wants to see this stuff protected more than I do. It would be a catastrophe for us to lose a natural beauty, particularly the oceans that surround us. But I think that can be balanced with access too, and that’s what we’re trying to find here – a good balance so we don’t go overboard in one direction versus the other.”
The full interview is available here.