The Florida Legislature brought record funding for projects aimed at restoring our estuaries, the Florida Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. In a $682 million comprehensive package of water quality and restoration initiatives, we made huge strides that will dramatically improve our waterways and greatly reduce harmful discharges.

Most notable is the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. Ongoing projects already underway in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), Restoration Strategies, the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Plans and the Central Everglades Plan address critical water quality and storage needs, but it is the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration project that will greatly accelerate our ability to dramatically reduce discharges and work toward cleaning up the water that enters Lake Okeechobee from the north.

Part of CERP, the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan is a joint effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The combined plan will reduce 80% of the damaging discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal estuaries.

This science-driven plan includes 13,000 acres of shallow storage, 80 Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, and 4,700 acres of wetland restoration. Together, nearly 500,000 acre-feet of storage capacity will be added to the system annually that allows water managers to protect estuaries as well as our drinking water supply.

Just as we did in funding south of Lake Okeechobee storage with the EAA Reservoir, this Legislature is committed to jumpstarting funding north of Lake Okeechobee storage to help save Lake O, the Everglades and our estuaries.

Senator Debbie Mayfield is chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment & Natural Resources. She can be contacted via email at mayfield.debbie.web@flsenate.gov . Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.

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