Florida Senate leader proposes $2B Lake Okeechobee cleanup

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STUART, Fla. (AP) – The Florida Senate’s incoming president on Tuesday announced a $2.4 billion plan to purchase 60,000 acres of mostly farmland south of Lake Okeechobee and convert it into reservoirs and water treatment plants aimed at reducing toxic algae outbreaks in nearby rivers and lagoons.

Joe Negron’s plan would drastically reduce the flow of untreated water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Nitrogen and phosphorus in the water have caused periodic outbreaks of guacamole-thick algae in those rivers. The St. Lucie flows east to an area north of Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast, while the Caloosahatchee flows southwest to Fort Myers on the Gulf of Mexico.

Similar plans have been proposed over the years and supported by most residents near the rivers, but have gotten stuck in the political process. The algae blooms are caused by human and animal waste and fertilizer from farms and lawns being washed into the lake and waterways. The algae feast on the nutrients and grow rapidly in Florida’s summer heat. The outbreaks are toxic to marine life and can cause health problems in humans.

Negron’s plan calls for issuing $1.2 billion in state bonds and seeking $1.2 billion in federal matching funds. Much of the land is owned by U.S. Sugar and its competitor, Florida Crystals. Such plans mimic the state’s natural water flow, which was altered over a century ago as part of a plan to drain the Everglades for agriculture and development.

“The algae blooms that have hit over the past months have been poisoning our river, poisoning our lagoon. They remind us every day that there is much more work that needs to be done and will be done,” said Negron, R-Stuart, who will become Senate president in November.

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