Fixing our toxic water is, without a doubt, the most important issue for our community. That's why one of my top priorities in Congress has been passing legislation called the Water Resources Development Act, which was drafted by the subcommittee on which I serve as Vice Chairman. With people getting sick, animals dying, our environment being demolished and our economy withering, we cannot wait any longer to get this bill signed into law.
What is the Water Resources Development Act?
The Water Resources Development Act is a biennial bill that authorizes new water infrastructure projects and makes improvements to water programs across the country. As Vice Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcomittee, I've fought to include as many Treasure Coast priorities in the bill as possible, including authorization of the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir. Getting this bill signed into law is absolutely critical in our fight for clean water.
What is the status of the legislation?
The House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act on June 6, 2018, but it did not receive a vote in the Senate. On September 10, 2018, the House and Senate announced a deal to pass a bipartisan compromise version of the legislation. This bipartisan bill includes all of the Treasure Coast priorities from the version passed by the House on June 6, 2018 and also includes an updated bipartisan provision that I wrote with Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Bill Nelson to authorize the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir. The compromise bill passed the House of Representatives on September 13, 2018 and passed the United States Senate on October 10, 2018!
What is in the bill for our waterways?
Authorizes the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir
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 plantlife, 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: In 2017, the State of Florida passed Senate Bill 10, which authorized the construction of a water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to store and treat water, thus limiting these damaging discharges. The bill was then reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and referred to Congress in July for authorization by the federal government, who will share in half of the costs for the project. This bill authorizes the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir so that design and construction can get underway as soon as possible.
Mandates Expedited Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS) Review
Problem: The Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation project is on track to be completed in 2022. Once that project is complete, it will have a significant positive impact on the flood control mission that the Army Corps administers. The Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule determines when water must be discharged from the lake, based in large part on the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike. The Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule was last updated in 2008; therefore, discharge decisions are still being based on data that is over a decade old.
Solution: This amendment directs the Army Corps to update the Lake Okeechobee Review Regulation Schedule (LORS) starting in 2019 so that the most up-to-date flood control data is available upon completion of the dike in 2022, ensuring that discharges from Lake Okeechobee are only done when absolutely necessary.
Funds Development of Large-Scale Water Filtration Technology
Problem: When harmful algal blooms are present in Lake Okeechobee and the Army Corps discharges water into the estuaries, the rate of flow is almost 11 billion gallons of toxic water flooding into the rivers per day. Currently, there is no filtration system capable of sufficiently cleaning water at that rate.
Solution: This amendment authorizes a five-year program for the Army Corps’ Engineering Research and Development Center to identify and develop technology for the large-scale filtration of water, including early detection, prevention and management of harmful algal blooms. The amendment funds the program at $3 million per year.
Supports Kissimmee River Restoration
Problem: Historically, the Kissimmee River held significant amounts of water rather than sending that water rapidly into Lake Okeechobee. But, after the river was channelized, the Kissimmee more quickly flushed water into Lake Okeechobee, exacerbating the need for discharges. Kissimmee River restoration has aimed to restore the river to its more natural state so that water drains into Lake Okeechobee less quickly and is naturally filtered.
Solution: In order to expedite completion of the restoration, the State of Florida contributed a greater percentage of the total cost than the 50/50 cost share agreement. Under this provision, the State of Florida will receive credit toward the state’s 50% share of the total project cost for work the state has already completed to restore the Kissimmee River to a more natural flow, reducing the negative impacts of Lake Okeechobee.
Directs The Federal Government To Provide Technical Assistance To States
Problem: The lack of technical assistance made available to the South Florida Water Management District’s work establishing the post-authorization change report for the EAA southern storage reservoir was one of the biggest challenges in getting that report to the Army Corps for approval in a timely manner.
Solution: This amendment directs the Army Corps to provide technical assistance to feasibility studies paid for by non-federal sponsors, expediting completion of studies and increasing the likelihood that the final report will be determined to be feasible.
Authorizes St. Lucie County Beach Restoration Project
Problem: The impact of waves along our coast line, especially during severe weather, causes beach errosion, where loss of sand causes beaches to be narrower and lower in elevation. This erosion hurts our economy and quality of life, as well as potentially risking coastal infrastructure.
Solution: This provision authorizes a project in St. Lucie County to restore beaches that have been eroded by storms and establishes a maintenance plan to re-nourish the beach every two to five years.
So, what is next?
Now that both the House of Representatives and Senate have passed the bill, it must be signed into law by the President. I've also introduced 7 other bills to help our community, including requiring a human health and safety standard for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and securing federal resources to restore our community in the aftermath of this emergency. I've also helped secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to combat harmful algal blooms, prevent toxic agricultural runoff and restore the Everglades. I will not stop fighting until our water is clean and our health and safety is prioritized!