Water Act Passed By Congress Includes Legislation To Clean Florida's Waters

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The U.S. House has passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2022, which includes a Florida congressman's plan to clean up the state's waterways.

Stuart Representative Brian Mast says his Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan is part of the Act, which passed by a large bipartisan vote.

He previously got the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan passed, however...

"That's not designed to save the northern estuaries like the Lake Worth Lagoon, the Caloosahatchee (River), the St. Lucie (River). It's not designed to prevent all of the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee."

The District 18 Republican says what he calls "NERP," for short, will require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action to address harmful algae blooms and bring an eventual end to toxic discharges. The blue-green algal blooms that form in the big lake, especially during the hotter summer months, wind up in local waterways when the water is released from Lake Okeechobee.

Mast says his bill gives orders to the Army Corps.

"They would have to come up with policies that would specifically aim to end all discharges, all harmful flows of water out of Lake Okeechobee that go to the east and west coast of Florida."

According to the Representative's office:

In addition to the Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan, the bill also includes six other major provisions written by Rep. Mast:

$100 Million to Protect Our Estuaries: 

Water quality in the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Worth Lagoon has degraded substantially as a result of toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee, as well as pollution from agricultural and municipal sources. Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach Counties have all been plagued by toxic algal blooms as a result, and public health is put at risk. 

This provision will authorize $100 million in new funding for Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach Counties to build water infrastructure designed to improve water quality in the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Worth Lagoon. The funding is directed to be used for local water projects, such as septic to sewer conversions or construction of new waste and stormwater treatment infrastructure to improve water quality in the estuaries. 

Improving Water Quality in the Indian River Lagoon: 

The ongoing Indian River Lagoon - South (IRL-S) Project is a multi-billion dollar investment in one of the most biologically diverse estuarine systems in the continental United States. Unfortunately, this project is at risk of major delays due to inflation and other cost overruns. Congressional action is needed to ensure this project has enough funding to stay on track. 

Rep. Mast wrote this provision to authorize the additional funding needed to keep the project on schedule. More information on this critical project is available here. 

Developing New Technology to Combat Harmful Algal Blooms:

Previous iterations of WRDA have included provisions written by Rep. Mast to develop new technology to combat harmful algal blooms, primarily focusing the research and development efforts on the source of the blooms in Lake Okeechobee.  

This year, Rep. Mast added a provision authorizing the Army Corps to develop new technology and tools to predict, detect, prevent, treat and eliminate harmful algal blooms specifically in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee. 

Expediting Completion of the EAA Reservoir: 

The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir was authorized through a provision written by Rep. Mast in WRDA 2018, and in 2020, Rep. Mast secured language that clarified a “new start” designation was not needed for the Army Corps to begin construction. Despite the clarification of Congressional intent provided in the last iteration of WRDA, the Army Corps has failed to adequately prioritize this vital project. 

Passage of the Water Resources Development Act also received praise from Democrat West Palm Beach Congresswoman Lois Frankel.

One Senate committee has passed it by a unanimous vote last month.

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