Lake O reservoir bill passes House

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A Lake Okeechobee reservoir plan pushed for by clean water advocates just took a major step forward.

The Florida House has passed its version of a Senate bill that would authorize the state to borrow money to fund construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The reservoir would hold excess water that is currently released into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and is blamed for blue-green algae and brown muck along the coasts.

The measure, approved by a 99-19 margin, had been expected to pass the House after Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, a prominent reservoir advocate, brokered a budget deal last week. An earlier House budget proposal included no money for the reservoir.

Gov. Rick Scott, who must sign off on the bill before it becomes law, has expressed support for the reservoir as well as for repairing the Hoover Dike, which surrounds the lake. The Senate must approve House changes to the bill before it goes to Scott’s desk.

Agricultural interests and communities surrounding the lake have opposed the reservoir idea, contending it would put too much farmland out of use.

But a Senate committee revised the bill so that at least a portion of construction would take place on lands already owned by the state, drawing measured praise from U.S. Sugar, a key reservoir opponent.

The house bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, whose district includes Fort Myers.

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