State Senator Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) Senate Bill 10 (SB 10) – Water Resources was approved 36-3 on the Senate floor yesterday, sending the bill to the Florida House.
The recently amended version of SB 10 considered yesterday afternoon calls for storage of 240,000-360,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee at a cost of $1.5 billion. Half the cost would come primarily from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, with matching funds anticipated to come from the federal government.
Prior versions of the bill raised concerns that eminent domain could be used to gain control of privately held agricultural lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). State Senator Dana Young (R-Tampa) requested clarification as to whether or not the bill would authorize eminent domain. Bradley responded with a definitive no.
Some legislators and members of the public questioned why southern storage was being prioritized. State Senator Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), who voted against the bill, pointed out that the 2015 University of Florida Water Institute study recommended following the existing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) priorities and seeking northern storage solutions.
State Senator Kevin Rader (D-Boca Raton) asked whether research had been done to determine the root cause of the algae blooms and pointed out that lakes in other states are also impacted by similar algae blooms. Bradley said that he did not have that information.
Several senators, including State Senator Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) and State Senator Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee), wanted more specificity regarding the employment training plan proposed as part of the bill for residents of the EAA who could be impacted by loss of agricultural jobs if active agricultural land is taken out of production.
Rader, citing a “40-to-50 percent unemployment rate” in the EAA with some residents living without running water, questioned whether enough money had been allocated for the economic recovery of EAA residents.
Debate on the bill lasted close to three hours. Several amendments to SB 10 were proposed from the floor but few were adopted.
State Senator José Javier Rodríguez (D- Miami-Dade) proposed five different amendments to the bill. Bradley thanked Rodriguez for having his heart in the right place; however, none of Rodriguez’s amendments were supported by Bradley and none were adopted by the Senate.
Both Bradley and State Senator Denise Grimsley (R-Lake Placid) each had amendments which were adopted. While Bradley’s amendment focused on speeding up the existing plan, Grimsley’s amendment proposed a facility to be used for EAA residents who will take part in the jobs training program. Grimsley’s amendment garnered support from Gibson who saw the amendment as a complement to the jobs training program.
Many concerns raised during Senate debate will likely be revisited in the more fiscally conservative House, particularly a provision to borrow money for the project in future years.
State Senate President Joe Negron, an ardent supporter of SB 10, said he was very pleased with the Senate’s support for the bill. “For it to leave the Senate on such a strong note today, I’m optimistic,” said Negron. He also said that he is hopeful about the bill’s fate in the House based on informal discussions with House members and the fact the bill’s recent amendments addressed many concerns he’d been hearing from House members, individuals and businesses. “You can feel the momentum,” he said.