It's the law: Build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curb disastrous discharges to the St. Lucie River.
Last week Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 10, the legislation authorizing a significant increase in water stored south of Lake Okeechobee to further the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating harmful discharges from the lake.
The reservoir was Senate President Joe Negron's top priority during the Florida Legislature's session that ended Monday.
"After 20 years of talking, southern storage is finally becoming a reality," Negron, a Republican from Stuart, said Tuesday in a news release. "We are well on our way to putting the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the pages of history, instead of the front pages of daily newspapers."
The shovels aren't coming out right away: The legislation calls for the state and the Army Corps of Engineers to each pitch in $800 million to build the 78.2 billion-gallon reservoir. So Congress has to authorize it, and President Donald Trump has to add his signature, as well.
The reservoir is two-thirds the size of the 117.3 billion-gallon project Negron originally sought, but farmers south of the lake and members of the state House of Representatives recoiled at his plan to buy 60,000 acres of farmland south of the lake.
The larger reservoir, combined with other water control projects already in the pipeline, was estimated to reduce annual average Lake O discharges east and west by about 90 percent. The smaller, deeper reservoir to be built on state-owned land, along with the other projects, is estimated to reduce discharges by up to 60 percent.
The project's size can be increased by possible land swaps and purchases. SB 10 prohibits the use of eminent domain. It also provides grants to establish training programs for agricultural workers.
"I look forward to the work ahead as we continue to work with Governor Scott and our federal partners to expedite the planning and construction of this critical project," Negron said in his statement. "Together, we will end the plague of toxic blue-green algae that harms the health of our citizens and destroys our environment and our economy, once and for all."
After years of stops and starts, the bill puts the reservoir project on a speedy pace. By July 1, the South Florida Water Management District is supposed to ask the Corps to jointly develop what's known as a "post-authorization change report" to revise plans on the A-2 site where the reservoir is to be built.
If the Corps agrees, work on the report is supposed to start by Aug. 1. Congress has to approve the report by Dec. 1, 2019, or the A-2 parcel will revert to its earlier use and the state will have to look for another place to build the reservoir.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Palm City Republican, has said he'll introduce legislation Thursday he's calling the Everglades FIRST Act – it stands for Flow Increases Rely on Storage and Treatment – directing the to expedite work on reports needed for the reservoir and other projects to increase water storage around Lake O.