Dec 08 2020

Mast Provisions To Reduce Toxic Discharges, Protect Florida Waters To Become Law

Congress Passes Final Version of Water Resources Development Act of 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the final version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, which includes several provisions written by Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) to protect clean water in Florida. These provisions include reducing toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee, expediting construction of the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir and developing new technology to combat harmful algal blooms.

“For decades, Florida’s coastal communities have been on the receiving end of toxic discharges, including recently discharges that have tested more than 60 times more toxic than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for human contact. These discharges put public health at risk, damage the economy and destroy the environment. We have worked tirelessly to fight these discharges, and having these protections written into law is a critical step in the right direction,” Rep. Mast said. “Our fight is far from over, but demanding that the Army Corps reduce discharges to our estuaries is a huge victory, and now we continue the fight to eliminate them altogether, and send the water south.”

Fighting for these provisions has been Rep. Mast’s top priority in Congress because the discharges from Lake Okeechobee are poisoning communities, forcing businesses to close, making people sick and destroying the environment. Last year, Rep. Mast worked with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a new public health standard for microcystin (8 parts per billion), which in turn forced the Army Corps of Engineers to admit to knowingly discharging toxic water to the coastal estuaries. Despite acknowledging that these releases are toxic, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has continued to poison Americans.

Rep. Mast secured the following wins in the Water Resources Development Act of 2020:

Accelerating EAA Southern Storage Reservoir Construction

Problem: Rep. Mast successfully authorized the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2018. This authorization gave the Army Corps of Engineers a green light to begin executing plans to build the reservoir, but the Army Corps has blatantly disregarded Congressional directives by delaying construction—claiming that the project still requires a “new start” designation. This is irresponsible and leaves our community at risk of toxic discharges for even longer.

Solution: Rep. Mast’s provision included in the bill directs the Army Corps that they do not need a “new start” or additional authorization to begin construction of the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir. This amendment clarifies the intent of Congress so that the Army Corps must end their bureaucratic delay and begin construction on this critical project that will expand the system’s capacity and maximize the amount of water that can be sent south to the Everglades.

Reducing Discharges From Lake Okeechobee

Problem: Discharges from Lake Okeechobee are damaging to the Treasure Coast not only because they contain toxic algal blooms but also because the freshwater infusion into a brackish estuary kills plant life, harms animals and destroys the environment. To prevent these discharges, the water must instead be sent south of Lake Okeechobee - mimicking the natural flow.

Solution: This amendment mandates that, as part of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, the Army Corps must seek to minimize discharges to the estuaries. This analysis must include considering a complete prohibition on discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary and a prohibition on harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

Prevented Manipulation of Florida’s Waterways For Private Profit

Problem: For decades, Lake Okeechobee has been managed to the will of for-profit special interests rather than to the benefit of all Floridians. As part of this bill, the sugar industry and their special interest allies were fighting to manipulate Florida’s water even further, retroactively tying the hands of the Army Corps to unrelated policy from two decades ago called the “CERP savings clause.” If they succeeded, it would mean more discharges from Lake Okeechobee, more toxic algal blooms in our estuaries and less clean water for the Everglades. No Floridian should accept this.

Solution: Rep. Mast fought successfully to prevent inclusion of language pushed by sugar industry lobbyists to retroactively tie the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual to the CERP Savings Clause from two decades ago. In keeping out this language, it ensures the Army Corps can continue working to fix Lake Okeechobee’s regulation schedule without being forced to prioritize one water user over all the rest or jeopardize the health of our communities to store water for one politically-powerful industry. No single company’s profit should be prioritized over drinking and irrigation water for millions.

Combating Harmful Algal Blooms

Problem: During the wet summer months, Lake Okeechobee is routinely covered by harmful algal blooms as a result of runoff from agriculture, cities, towns and other sources. When the Army Corps discharges water from the lake, these blooms are transferred to the coastal estuaries where they wreak economic, health and environmental damage. In fact, these blooms regularly test more toxic than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for human contact.

Solution: The bill requires the Army Corps to conduct research to determine the causes of harmful algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee and implement measures to effectively detect, prevent, treat and eliminate harmful algal blooms.

Requiring The Army Corps To Coordinate On Monitoring, Forecasting and Notification of Harmful Algal Blooms

Problem: Although harmful algal blooms regularly occur on Lake Okeechobee in excess of the Environmental Protection Agency’s human health standard, the Florida Department of Health and Army Corps have routinely failed to properly notify Floridians about the health risks posed by the discharges. Moreover, the Army Corps’ inability to forecast cyanobacteria levels in Lake Okeechobee has hindered efforts to prevent discharges containing harmful algal blooms.

Solution: Rep. Mast’s amendment requires the Army Corps to coordinate with both federal and state agencies—including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Department of Health—on monitoring, forecasting, and notification of cyanobacteria levels in Lake Okeechobee. Ensuring this coordination happens will improve public awareness about the health impacts of harmful algal blooms and help the Army Corps make better operational decisions to prevent the destruction of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Authorizes Restoration Of The Loxahatchee River Watershed

Problem: Over many decades, development projects have hurt the federally-designated “National Wild and Scenic” Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River. As a result, the area’s wetlands and watersheds that form the historic headwaters for the river are in need of restoration to restore more natural water deliveries, promote improved wetland health, and increase the quantity and quality of habitat available for native wildlife and vegetation.

Solution: This provision authorizes the Loxahatchee Watershed Restoration Project, which is a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. This important CERP project will help restore the natural flow of water, promote healthy waterways and improve aquatic ecosystems and vegetation in northern Palm Beach County and southern Martin County.

Fort Pierce Beach Shore Restoration

Problem: Anybody that spends time in Fort Pierce knows that there has been extensive erosion along the Fort Pierce Beach Shore.

Solution: This provision authorizes a new federal beach project to build additional structures that will restore the Fort Pierce Beach Shore and prevent further degradation. Restoring this shoreline will also help provide a natural barrier to protect our communities from hurricanes and storm surges.

Supporting Completion Of The C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir

Problem: Once completed, the C-43 reservoir will provide water storage needed for the Caloosahatchee estuary by capturing local basin runoff and discharges from Lake Okeechobee. This will reduce the quantity of discharges reaching the estuary during the wet months and provide needed ecological water supply during the dry months. These water distribution improvements will drastically improve the ecology of the Caloosahatchee estuary and help prevent harmful algal blooms; however, as a result of outdated legislation that caps the total cost of the C-43 reservoir, the project is at risk of being delayed without action from Congress to lift this cap.

Solution: This bill includes a post-authorization change report for the C-43 reservoir to prevent this issue and ensure timely completion of this critical project.