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Rubio: WRDA Will Be Turning Point for Lake Okeechobee & Everglades

Jul 11, 2018 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the harmful algae blooms related to discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Rubio recently requested the Small Business Administration (SBA) quickly open a Business Recovery Center and make agency resources available to small businesses that are adversely affected by harmful algal blooms related to discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) Post-Authorization Change Report (PACR) to reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges by constructing the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir to store, treat, and move more water south to the Everglades. The approval came after Rubio’s urging in June.
Following Rubio’s request to President Trump, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers delayed Monday’s scheduled discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rubio was instrumental in securing the funding that the Army Corps will use to implement its Long Term Disaster Recovery Investment Plan to expedite the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike, as well as measures to protect Lake Okeechobee communities and restore the Everglades.
A rough transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below:
My home state of Florida is once again experiencing an environmental and economic catastrophe, a real crisis. It’s a crisis whose cause extends back decades, decades of bad decisions, decisions made on things people didn’t think about, neglect, and myopic water management. Nowhere is that crisis more acute or more apparent than at Lake Okeechobee, the liquid heart of the Everglades and our surrounding coastal communities including the city of Stuart, which is on the verge of seeing conditions very similar to what they experienced in the year 2016,

So if you are living to the west or you are living to the east, what you know is that when these releases happen, all of that algae that you see here and all that green algae I just showed in that picture, which is toxic and kills life, not to mention — it’s harmful to people that come into contact, potentially even breathe it in, all that stuff is headed your way when those releases happen. Unfortunately, those discharges have a catastrophic impact on the environment and on the Floridians living along our coastal ecosystems.
They are especially destructive when these releases export, as I said, nutrient-rich waters with toxic blue-green algae blooms from the lake to the waterways and estuaries that are downstream. Because there those blooms, that algae, it kills fish, fouls the water, shutters all sorts of small businesses along the coast, has a tremendous negative impact to property values, to the real estate market, it creates respiratory irritation for people and contact dermatitis for residents that get too close to this. Imagine you live in this area. Maybe you’re a small business that depends on visitors, maybe you invest a lot of money to retire near the water, maybe you have grown up there your entire life and summers, the greatest memories with your family are spent on the water, and this stuff is headed your way.
I assure you this does not increase your property values, it collapses them. I assure you this does not encourage visitors to come to your area. It not only discourages them from coming now, but the reputation gets out, and all of these small businesses that depend on access to the water are now being threatened by that as well. And that picture — if you see this picture here, that green, that’s all toxic algae, all of that. In one of the waterways. That’s not Chicago on St. Patrick’s day. It’s not food coloring. This is toxic algae in the Caloosahatchee River. Images like this are becoming all too common for residents in this area, and the picture actually doesn’t do it justice. This is not just the color of the water. This is thick, thick algae of a kind that, you know, is inches deep, and you can imagine that everything underneath that is not just being cut off from sunlight and oxygen, but it’s toxic.
We reached out to the President, we reached out to the Administration, and thankfully they acted quickly. They called the Army Corps and the Army Corps paused the discharges that were scheduled for Monday. So on Monday – Sunday night, early Monday morning, people woke to the positive news that this — these releases were not going to start on Monday. By the way, if you go over to the release points where the water is let out, it’s all backed up with this algae. All you have to do is stand there and see it and know as soon as they open, all that stuff is coming out and it’s coming at you. They gave us this three or four-day reprieve, however long it takes, to allow water managers to conduct a full assessment of the system’s conditions and to look for other available options for moving the water.
While this was a positive response, it is not a long-term answer to this problem.
At some point over the next few days, this is going to have to be released. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time. And the result is that 2018 is shaping up to be another lost summer along Caloosahatchee and Indian river estuaries, just like it was in 2013 and just like it was in 2016. And I want to be frank. Over the last 20, 30, 10, and five years, the federal government has not done enough for anyone to expect that anything will change in the next five years. Now, here is full candor. There are really no good, viable short-term options that fix this overnight. This is a fact. We know this. Ultimately, no matter how much we push the Army Corps to hold back releases at some point they will have to because we’re in rainy season, and there comes a point where the risk of flood and loss of life compels them to release some of it. You hope they pulse it, you hope they spread it out, you hope they don’t release more than they need to, you hope they stretch it as much as possible. But in the end, we know it’s going to happen and so do the residents of this region. What’s frustrating is not only the release is coming, but nothing seems to be happening to prevent this from continuing on forever.

So the Senate will soon take up the water infrastructure bill, and that bill is going to allow us to move forward with the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. This project, by the way, is connected to the broader project called the Central Everglades Planning Project, which the Congress authorized in 2016’s water resources bill. And that reservoir is vital to ensuring more water is sent south through the Everglades as nature intended. This reservoir will basically be a pace where some of that water instead of having to go east and west can go into this reservoir south of the lake, it can be cleansed of many of those nutrients, and then instead of being released east and west, that cleaner water could be released south into the Everglades the way some of it once was back in the historic Everglades. And that project,  that piece of it, the Agricultural Area Reservoir, was at the Office of Management and Budget. And that’s why we worked with them and really spoke to them a number of times to get them to quickly approve the Army Corps’ review of the storage reservoir project. And I am happy for the residents of Florida, and particularly these impacted areas, that these efforts succeeded.
Yesterday the Administration, the Office of Management and Budget approved the Corps’ review of the project so that its design and construction can now be authorized by the Congress. We also must continue to move with expediency to finish the rehabilitation of the dike. And we fought hard to include appropriations in the most recent disaster supplemental that would provide enough funding to once and for all ensure that this is made a priority for completion. So I appreciate the administration’s heeding this request. Just last week the Army Corps allocated more than  $514 million for the dike. Now that means that with all the money needed to complete the project –  is now allocated. All of that money is now available and the dike can be finished by 2022. And what we hope that means is that now that the dike is repaired and stronger, they will be able to hold back more water for longer periods of time. But that alone isn’t going to solve this problem.
It will have some impact, and it certainly is important and we need to do it. We never want to see the Dike compromised, but ultimately that alone will not be enough. We have got to continue to do the other things, including the reservoir that I spoke about a moment ago. We have to also remain focused on bottlenecks at the southern end of the flow management system to allow for increased flow of water. This includes ensuring our partnership with the state of Florida, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Interior that we all continue to work together to meet the important timelines and project funding targets. I’ve spoken to President Trump about this. I recall at some point in the summer of last year as we flew to Miami for an event, we had a chance in our flight path to fly over part of the Everglades and the president is a part-time resident of Florida. He knows the area well. Palm Beach in particular is one of the areas impacted by all this. We talked about the opportunity the president had to be the infrastructure president and when it comes to Florida to be a president that actually gets things done for the Florida Everglades. I’ve asked him, I’ve talked to him about doubling federal investment in the Everglades restoration and infrastructure, like the Central Everglades Planning Project, to clean and store and move water into South Florida’s natural floodplain and away from where people live along the coast. In 2000, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. It was a complete framework for everything that needs to happen. We’ve got to continue to move forward on finally getting it done. There were too many delays. It took too long. There wasn’t enough of a federal commitment. Hopefully now, just in the last couple of years, we’ve begun to make headway on it. Because these infrastructure projects aren’t just about restoring the Everglades.

This is not just an environmental project. If it was just an environmental project, that alone would justify the work. It is not just an environmental project. It is about economic development, it is about water quality, about water supply. It is about the value of property. It’s about quality of life, and it impacts millions of our residents and of our visitors. But we have to finish the projects. We have to stay focused. If we lose our eye — if we take our eye off the ball, if we divert attention somewhere else, if we interrupt the work of these projects, every one of these delays just makes more and more of it these events likely. If Congress in 2000 moved with the speed we are moving now, some of this would have been avoided and every year we delay in not acting. These are the real-world consequences, and it only gets worse, not better, unless we address it. So that’s why I remain committed. Among my highest priorities for the state of Florida is to get this done in a timely fashion.