Florida Delegation Calls on USACE to Expedite Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project

Members of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill weighed in on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers‘ handling of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP), part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The project requires a Chief’s Report in order to authorize it in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2022, which is awaiting final passage. However, the Army Corps has yet to send this required document to Congress, leading to the Florida delegation to write Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael Connor and Commanding General and Chief of Engineers Headquarters Lieutenant General Scott Spellmon to expedite the Chief’s Report and ensure the project’s authorization is included in the WRDA 2022.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, R-Fla., and U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, Scott Franklin, R-Fla., John Rutherford, R-Fla., Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., Darren Soto, D-Fla., Greg Steube, R-Fla., Michael Waltz, R-Fla., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., signed the letter which is below.

Dear Assistant Secretary Connor and Lieutenant General Spellmon:

We write to express concern with delays in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP), a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), and to seek the expeditious delivery of a signed Chief’s Report to Congress. Further delay in the delivery of a signed Chief’s Report could jeopardize the project’s authorization and unnecessarily delay the project by two years.

LOWRP is a critically important Everglades restoration project that is intended to improve the quantity, quality, and timing of water flows into Lake Okeechobee from its watershed. In addition to restoring important ecosystem functions in the Okeechobee watershed, the project will allow water managers to optimize management flexibility in order to improve the ecology of the lake, reduce harmful discharges to the Northern Estuaries, provide a more reliable source of water for municipal and agricultural use, and generally facilitate the allocation of volumes of water when and where it is needed most. Additionally, the State of Florida has committed to fully funding the implementation of LOWRP in order to fulfill CERP cost-share requirements, preserving the integrity of the CERP program and facilitating the expeditious completion of other incredibly important restoration projects such as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir.

Understanding the importance of LOWRP, Congress directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the completion of the LOWRP feasibility study in the Water Resources Act (WRDA) of 2020 (P.L. 116-260). As you know, the Project Delivery Team for LOWRP began planning the project more than six years ago, in July 2016, and has been granted three extension waivers, with the most recent occurring in September 2021. A signed Chief’s Report to Congress had been expected as soon as July 2022, however, due to frivolous bureaucratic obstruction occurring within Army Corps Headquarters, a Chief’s Report has not yet been delivered.

We urge you to deliver a signed Chief’s Report to Congress for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project as soon as possible to secure the project’s authorization within the WRDA 2022 legislation, which Congress is in the last stages of finalizing. A failure to deliver the signed Chief’s Report in a timely manner would violate Congressional intent, and have the detrimental impacts of unnecessarily delaying LOWRP, undermining the integrity of the CERP cost-share framework, and compounding delays throughout the entire suite of CERP projects currently under construction and in planning. You must act without delay.

We request a briefing from your offices no later than this week on the status of the Chief’s Report for LOWRP.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

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