The Water Resources Development Act
Cleaning up our toxic water is, without a doubt, the most important issue for our community. That’s why one of my top priorities in Congress is advocating for Florida’s interests when Congress passes the Water Resources Development Act. As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have a seat at the table when this legislation is drafted every two years, and I use that position to protect our public health, economy and environment. When an algae outbreak occurs, people get sick, pets die, the environment is demolished and our economy suffers: this bill is one of the best opportunities we have to fight against that.
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. Every two years, I fight to include as many priorities for the state of Florida as possible, including initiatives to prevent toxic discharges and accelerate construction of the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir. Passing this bill and getting it signed into law is absolutely critical in our fight for clean water!
What is the status of the legislation?
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked up the legislation on May 18, 2022. This gave members of the Committee a chance to offer amendments to the draft. It was passed out of Committee unanimously and now awaits a vote on the House Floor.
What priorities are included to protect and clean our waterways?
The Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan
Problem: When the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was authorized by Congress in 2000 to restore America’s Everglades, it was historic progress for Florida’s environment. While CERP projects are critically important, however, they will stop only about two-thirds of discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary. We still must eliminate the remaining discharges.
Solution: The Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan (NERP) will take over where CERP leaves off. It will require the Army Corps to plan additional infrastructure to stop the remaining discharges that CERP won’t. Finishing construction on all CERP projects must remain the immediate goal, but our community can’t afford to wait until that is over to start work on additional infrastructure to fully eliminate discharges. We need to start now, and that’s exactly what this provision mandates.
$100 Million To Protect Our Estuaries
Problem: Water quality in the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Worth Lagoon has degraded substantially thanks to toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee, as well as pollution from agricultural and municipal sources in our communities. Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach Counties have all been plagued by toxic algal blooms as a result, and people’s health is being put at risk.
Solution: This provision authorizes $100 million in new funding for Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach Counties to build new water infrastructure designed to improve water quality in the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Worth Lagoon. Using this funding they will be able to tackle local water projects, such as septic to sewer conversions or construction of new waste and stormwater treatment infrastructure to improve water quality and prevent harmful algal blooms.
Improving Water Quality In The Indian River Lagoon
Problem: The ongoing Indian River Lagoon - South (IRL-S) Project is a multi-billion dollar investment in the protection of one of the most biologically diverse estuarine systems in the continental United States. By reducing nutrients and improving salinity, the overall ecology of the St. Lucie Estuary and the southern portion of the Indian River Lagoon will be dramatically improved. Unfortunately, this project is at risk of major delays due to inflation and other cost overruns. Congressional action is needed to ensure this project has enough funding to stay on track.
Solution: This legislation cuts through needless and outdated red tape to help keep the project on track. Specifically, I fought to include language that would allow the Corps to complete this important project by authorizing additional funding for the remaining work.
Developing New Technology to Combat Harmful Algal Blooms
Problem: During the summer months, harmful algal blooms plague the estuaries, and wreak economic, health and environmental damage. The blooms regularly test more toxic than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for human contact, and studies show that they contain high levels of neurotoxins that have been linked to major health problems. I have secured funding in the past to develop new technology to combat harmful algal blooms with the research and development focusing primarily on the source of the blooms in Lake Okeechobee. More must be done to combat these blooms in the northern estuaries specifically.
Solution: The bill authorizes the Army Corps to develop new technology and tools to predict, detect, prevent, treat and eliminate harmful algal blooms specifically in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee.
Expediting Completion of the EAA Reservoir
Problem: There is no single project more important to Everglades restoration than the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. After fighting for years to authorize the reservoir, the Army Corps continues to drag its feet on construction and fails to prioritize this vital initiative.
Solution: The bill includes report language that requires the Army Corps to prioritize and expedite completion of the EAA Reservoir.
Removing Legacy Nutrients from Lake Okeechobee
Problem: Phosphorus and nitrogen feed harmful algal blooms, which is why minimizing pollution containing these nutrients is critical to the fight to protect public health in Florida. Unfortunately, these nutrients have also accumulated in the muck at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee in large quantities. That means that even if ongoing pollution was eliminated, these legacy nutrients could continue to fuel harmful algal blooms for decades to come.
Solution: This provision authorizes the dredging of legacy nutrients from Lake Okeechobee for environmental purposes, including the removal of excess phosphorus. Removing these legacy nutrients from the lake is critical in the fight to combat harmful algal blooms.
Defending Military Personnel From Harmful Algal Blooms
Problem: Military personnel working on and around Lake Okeechobee are routinely exposed to harmful algal blooms for 8+ hours per day. These blooms regularly test above the level the EPA has stated is dangerous to human health, including increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s, ALS, liver disease and more. Often the impacts of this exposure may not be seen for decades.
Solution: This provision requires the Army Corps to note in the file of personnel every time they are exposed to harmful algal blooms that exceed the level the EPA has determined to be unsafe. This tracking is critical to ensuring that these personnel are able to receive the care and compensation necessary should these disastrous health impacts be realized.
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