LAKE OKEECHOBEE, FL. -- - Governor Jeb Bush, joined by Agriculture
Commissioner Charles Bronson, Senator Ken Pruitt and Representative Joe
Negron on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, Monday unveiled a comprehensive
plan to accelerate restoration and recovery of the largest freshwater lake
in the southeast. Under the $200 million recovery plan, the State is
expanding water storage areas, constructing treatment marshes and
expediting environmental management initiatives to enhance the ecological
health of the lake and downstream coastal estuaries. Governor Bush will
ask the Florida Legislature to provide a second installment of $25 million
in next year's budget, building on an initial investment of $30 million
this year - $25 million in growth management funding from the Department of
Environmental Protection and $5 million from the Department of Agriculture
and Consumer Services.
"Lake Okeechobee is the gateway to America s Everglades. Restoring this
dynamic system is critical to the long-term economic and environmental
health of South Florida," said Governor Bush. "This comprehensive,
common-sense plan will reduce pollution and better manage the flow of water
while meeting our flood control and water supply responsibilities."
The 2004 hurricane season generated unprecedented rainfall, dumping
up to 13 million gallons of water each minute into Lake Okeechobee at its
peak. The 730-square-mile lake rose by more than five and a half feet in
less than three months -- from just over 12 feet in early August to more
than 18 feet by mid-October. The high winds, heavy rainfall and recent warm
weather contributed to murky waters, poor water quality and a decline in
the health of the lake. In addition, regulated freshwater discharges
needed to lower lake levels and prevent flooding have impacted the health
of the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries downstream.
Together with Florida's Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan and the $8 billion
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, this proposal fast tracks
construction projects during the next four years. Water managers will
construct the 4,000-acre Taylor Creek reservoir ahead of schedule and build
an additional 3,500 acres of stormwater treatment area to capture and clean
water flowing into the lake. Slated for completion by 2009, the
construction projects will provide 48,000-acre feet of additional water
storage, reduce harmful discharges to coastal estuaries and prevent up to
75 metric tons of phosphorus from flowing into the lake each year.
As a part of the plan, State agencies are raising standards and expediting
environmental requirements to reduce nutrient loading and better address
land use. Improved farming practices, strengthened permitting criteria for
new development, growth management incentives and nutrient limits for the
lake and its tributaries will reduce pollution and improve water quality.
The State will also begin implementing a new lake regulation schedule with
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lower water levels and reduce
freshwater discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to
improve current conditions.