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City of West Palm Beach supports controversial Senate bill impacting Lake Okeechobee water

Environmental groups fear legislation will negatively impact Treasure Coast, Everglades
Posted at 5:42 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 18:05:32-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The city of West Palm Beach is among those who are supporting an effort in Florida's Senate to give more local control to the water management of Lake Okeechobee.

It all started with a Senate bill this week, designed to nullify the new plan from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and clean water advocates for the Treasure Coast and the Everglades expressed opposition to SB 2508.

However, the city of West Palm tweeted support for the measure, saying the bill prioritizes safe drinking water for West Palm, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach.

The proposed bill would require local officials to give lake-level priority to agriculture, such as sugar, and some worry it will increase algae releases into waterways.

West Palm Beach relies on Lake Okeechobee for backup drinking water during times of drought.

The recent new water management plan from the Army Corps of Engineers, known as LOSOM, had been years in the planning, weighing concerns over algae releases in waterways and Everglades restoration.

In a letter last November to U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James had expressed concern about how LOSOM would affect the city's drinking water supply.

"I know the Corps is in a hurry to complete the LOSOM process, but that is no excuse for making decisions on a flawed model that does not accurately predict the impact of the various alternatives on the NPB (North Palm Beach) Area," James wrote, referring to where the city's water supply system is located.

Armando Fana, assistant city manager of West Palm Beach
Armando Fana

Assistant City Administrator Armando Fana says the city needed more time to study the impact of the plan.

"In order for them to be able to proceed with any changes, it would be required to not have adverse impacts on legal users," Armando Fana, assistant city manager of West Palm Beach. "That would include agriculture, but it would also include the city of West Palm Beach, because we have a legal permit for our water quantity, so if our water quantity is impacted, then it would have to be reviewed prior to any approval."

SB 2508 will still need approval from lawmakers as it faces opposition from DeSantis.

"I have been a champion for Everglades restoration and oppose any measure that derails progress on reducing harmful discharges and sending more water to the Everglades," the governor said in a statement.

It was last May when algae turned up in West Palm Beach drinking water, which was sourced from Lake Okeechobee.