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Joe Negron’s signature Lake Okeechobee project headed to governor’s desk

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The Senate voted Tuesday to send a trimmed-down version of SB 10, Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, to Gov. Rick Scott.

The 33-0 vote followed approval by the House earlier in the day.

Under amendments adopted in the House, and accepted in the Senate, bonding authority to acquire land and construct reservoirs would shrink from $1.2 billion to $800 million, bill sponsor Rob Bradley explained. The complete price tag for the project is $1.5 billion.

The project is designed to avoid the runoff of toxic algae-laden water from the lake into rivers, streams and estuaries to the east and west — like those that sickened people and depressed tourism last summer.

“I promised my constituents that we would dramatically expand southern storage by leveraging existing water infrastructure, and utilizing a combination of state, local, and private land,” said Negron in a statement. “After twenty years of talking about southern storage, this legislation establishes and fully funds a concrete plan to achieve this critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in a reasonable amount of time.

The bill provides for construction of reservoirs north and the south of the lake to store the overflow, and for treatment of the water and release into the Everglades and, ultimately, Florida Bay.

“Today the Florida House joined the Senate by passing SB 10, which will build additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. I have continued to support the diversion of Lake Okeechobee water away from our estuary as well as diversified storage options within our watershed to help protect the Caloosahatchee,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, whose district includes a region impacted by the discharges.  “SB 10 will bring relief from the harmful discharges that plague our estuary. I am very proud we were able to achieve this goal in the 2017 session.”

Scott has endorsed storing water south of the Lake, but not the bill’s bonding authority.

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