Joe Negron asks Congress to return jurisdiction of Lake Okeechobee to local control

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Florida Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is asking the state congressional delegation to strip the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of its power to make Lake Okeechobee water discharge decisions and leave them to local control.

“Over the last few months, the Army Corps has demonstrated a willingness to be more proactive and coordinate with the South Florida Water Management District to manage lake levels. This experience demonstrates the state water managers and the Army Corps can work effectively together,” Negron said in a letter to the delegation, according to a press release Tuesday. “However, the fact remains the Army Corps has sole jurisdiction and authority over lake levels and acts within that authority even when those actions conflict with the state water managers’ better judgment. We need your help to permanently and officially rebalance this delegation of responsibility and authority.”

Negron has for years been peeved by decisions made over controlling the lake’s water level, especially in late 2012, when the corps released billions of gallons of contaminated lake water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

“While I respect the history and mission of the Army Corps, decisions about managing Lake Okeechobee and surrounding waterways should be made by scientists and water managers working within a modern environmental agency controlled by an elected official who is accountable to the voters,” he wrote in the TC Palm.

Negron called this an excellent time to act.

“Within the next few weeks, Congress will consider the 2014 Water Resources Development Act,” he wrote. “You have the opportunity to authorize the C-43 Reservoir project in this legislation. The C-43 Reservoir will benefit the Caloosahatchee region by allowing for the storage of excess lake and local basin water during the wet season for use during the dry season.”

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Negron also informed the delegation that the Florida Legislature has been paving the way to accept responsibility, by purchasing land and setting aside funds.

“Florida has done our part to prepare the way for federal approval of this needed water storage project. The state has purchased the land and approved the plan for the reservoir,” he said. “We are poised to include our share of funding in the state budget, as recommended by both the Select Committee and Governor Scott. Federal authorization of the C-43 Reservoir is essential if Florida is to remain proactive in balancing the risk of a dike breach or failure with ongoing environmental impacts.”

Negron then specified how the delegation should act.

“To address these long-term impacts and consistent with the recommendations of the Select Committee,” he said, “I am asking Congress to take the following actions: (1) remove the Army Corps’ sole jurisdiction over Lake Okeechobee releases in the manner outlined in the attached report; and (2) direct the Army Corps to develop an interim risk assessment and lake-level schedule to account for the rehabilitation that has been completed or is ongoing to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike.”


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