Lawmakers amended a controversial water bill this week after several people, including Governor Ron DeSantis, voiced opposition.
Senate bill 2508 sought to ensure existing legal users of water from Lake Okeechobee didn’t have their supplies diminished.
Some argued the bill would worsen the water quality and could lead to more discharges to the east and west.
The bill was amended in the Florida Senate to make it clear the environment is a priority, left the 2017 water resources law untouched and tweaked language that may have hindered the South Florida Water Management District.
“Legal users will still be getting the water they need and all the water supply issues are addressed, even the new Lake Okeechobee management schedule program,” Mark Perry, the Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society said to WPTV’s Michael Williams. “The appropriations bill that tried to go through was going to railroad that.”
Environmentalists say U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals were a key force behind efforts for the bill. When asked for a statement, Florida Crystals said “We support the Florida Senate’s action that reaffirmed its commitment to ensure important projects like the EAA reservoir are built.”
“What is beneficial to you may not be beneficial to the other users of the water, including the environment,” Perry said in response to the Florida Crystals statement. “The environment needs that water as well.”
The city of West Palm Beach is also in support of the bill. City leaders say the city relies on Lake Okeechobee for back-up drinking water during droughts and worry the Army Corps of Engineers' new plan may have a negative impact on the city’s water supply.
“Florida is a water rich state and we have the water.” Perry told Williams when asked if the state has enough water to supply all users. “It’s just how you manage it, how it moves and where it goes and at what time it goes there. The storage, the treatment and the movement of that water south will adequately give supply needs for all the utilities that need it, and the agriculture interests that need it.”
The Florida House will now debate the bill and lawmakers will need to sign off on it before it heads to DeSantis’ desk for a signature. The governor has not said if he will support it after the recent changes.