Congress finally released funding for a major water project that will benefit Southwest Florida.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson announced on May 13 that the House and Senate committee overseeing the passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) - a bill authorizing federal funding for water projects nationwide - reached an agreement on the legislation.
The WRDA authorizes the release of $626.6 million to finish construction of the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Project, a project expected to help reduce polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee to local waterways, as well as $174.56 million for the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project in the southeastern portion of the Everglades ecosystem.
Besides providing for the construction of the C-43 Reservoir, it will also fund environmental projects such as the Broward County Water Preserve Area, the Biscayne Bay Coast Wetlands Phase I Project, and other regional improvements across Florida.
Nelson described the announcement as "great news" in a prepared statement.
"We are constantly wanting to help clean up the Caloosahatchee River from the discharges coming out of Lake Okeechobee. We have $626 million to build the reservoir near LaBelle in order to be able to do that," said Nelson. "This is an important first step."
The WRDA is a piece of legislation that needs to be reauthorized every six or seven years, said Nelson.
Since last summer, water officials have been saying that their hands were tied in helping with water quality because the federal government hadn't authorized WRDA, and now with those funds released, environmentalists are hoping C-43 will improve the water in Southwest Florida.
Yet, construction of C-43 may not be enough to solve the problem.
Ray Judah, the coordinator of the Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition, described the authorization of funds for C-43 as "insignificant." He said that last year alone, over 500 billion gallons of water flowed from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River, most of which was full of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Estimates of C-43 put the maximum amount of storage at approximately 55 billion gallons of water, said Judah, meaning that in a particularly rainy season - such as last year's flow of approximately 5 billion gallons a day, according to a study by the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation - the reservoir could fill up in between 9-11 days.
And last year, there were four straight months of excessive flows from the lake, he said.
Furthermore, the C-43 project won't treat any of the water it stores, he said, meaning it will act as a giant incubator for toxic blue-green algae.
Judah has been advocating for part of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) to be purchased and used to convey water south, its natural and historical route before planners diverted the flow east and west.