State Representative Rick Roth (R-Wellington) and State Senator David Simmons (R-Seminole County) are offering alternative, “common-sense,” solutions to discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
Roth’s House Bill 1211 and Simmons’s Senate Bill 816 take aim at speeding up the repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike instead of focusing on purchasing active agricultural land in the Everglades Agricultural Area for storage.
“The best place to store water is in Lake Okeechobee. If the dike would have been repaired two years ago, we would not have had the problem this year,” said Roth. “I make the argument that my bill will deal with the problem faster than any other bill and will allow storage of more water in the lake and without any land acquisition.”
Senate Bill 10, filed by State Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and heavily promoted by State Senate President Joe Negron, is now moving into appropriations but does not include any provisions regarding repair of the dike.
Roth said that SB 10 does nothing to solve the immediate problem. “It’s basically a land acquisition,” said Roth. “If you buy U.S. Sugar’s land under this bill, SB 10, U.S. Sugar still gets to lease the land for 20 years, so it doesn’t do anything for the Indian River Lagoon.” The lagoon and the Caloosahatchee River were inundated with discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013 and 2016, causing significant environmental damage to the estuaries.
“Obviously, the dike needs to be repaired,” said Simmons. “It’s causing the people of the State of Florida to be at risk. I mean, if it breaches, there can be a huge loss of life, certainly a loss of property.”
The dike system consists of 143 miles of levees, hurricane gates and other water control structures designed to protect citizens and their property. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) continues repairs on the dike, there is great concern that the work isn’t being done fast enough.
“The fact of it is they (the USACE) admit that they haven’t fixed the dike. It’s a Level 1 dike, which means it is one of the worst maintained, most dangerous dikes/dams in America,” said Simmons.
Simmons calculates that repairs allowing Lake Okeechobee to rise another 1.25 feet would store almost 600,000 acre feet of water. “That’s the same thing as 60,000 acres of storage, separate storage, with a 10-foot berm around it. It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” said Simmons.
“It’s a solution that is, in fact, exactly in accordance with CERP (the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan), and exactly in accordance with the recommendations of experts, and also exactly in accordance with common sense.”
Both Simmons and Roth are confident that, if passed, their legislation will result in a faster pace of repairs to the dike. Simmons said that the federal government is involved with the Herbert Hoover Dike with the permission of the State of Florida. “It is entirely incorrect to suggest that while they are involved that they are in control,” said Simmons. “The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 stated that, while they (the USACE) have control of the discharge schedule, they are there with our permission. That dike is owned by us, all of the easements are owned by us.”
Simmons had a final comment: “My answer to anyone is, you want to fix this problem, fix the damn dike,” he said.