Lawmakers may actually take Lake O sludge seriously in 2017

The incoming Florida Senate President wants to actually acknowledge and fix the environmental disaster.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R—Stuart, did something novel Tuesday.

He pledged a substantial amount of money toward an environmental effort the state abandoned years ago, one his party does not want to admit is the best way to solve a problem plaguing Florida's coasts and threatening tourism. He plans to put $2.4 billion toward a project that would ultimately route fertilizer-rich storm water from Lake Okeechobee southward, where it will be cleaned and sent to the Everglades.

Environmentalists have been saying this is the most sensible way to deal with agriculture runoff from the lake for years, but the plan hit a snag when Big Sugar (which would have to sell some of its land in order for the project to work) said nah.

So, instead, gross water gets sent out to the coasts via manmade canals.

Coincidentally (or not), deadly algae blooms popped up in the wake of such events, perhaps most dramatically this year ahead of the July Fourth holiday weekend (and back in February, right in the middle of snowbird season).

Negron, whose district was hit by July's coastal sliming, said the problem has become impossible to ignore.

“For too long, our community has been plagued by tremendous environmental and economic impacts as hundreds of millions of gallons of water are released from Lake Okeechobee each year,” Negron said in a press release. “Permanent storage South of Lake Okeechobee is unquestionably needed as part of the overall plan to solve this catastrophic problem, particularly given the very devastating effects the current toxic algal blooms are causing in both our estuaries and the Everglades.”

Some of the money — $100 million — would come from Amendment 1 money. Voters overwhelmingly passed that amendment in 2014, but environmentalists have been disappointed with lawmakers' application of the law.

Negron's proposal could be the best shot yet at putting the money toward environmental land acquisition and protection (as the amendment intended) in an effort to solve one of Florida's most visible environmental problems.

It's unclear what kind of support his proposal will have, especially outside the State Senate.

The Miami Herald reported Governor Rick Scott, who would ultimately have to sign off on the deal, was "non-committal" when asked about it Tuesday.

But in the past, Scott — who enjoys volumes of campaign and PAC cash donations from Big Sugar — has blown off the south-o'-the-lake solution, instead blaming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not building a high enough wall around the lake.

Negron may also face headwinds within the legislature, if not in his own chamber (which is much more moderate and expected to gain Democrats sympathetic to the issue) then in the more conservative State House.

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