Thank You Governor Scott – The Herbert Hoover Dike

Kudos to Governor Rick Scott. He gets it when it comes to the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD). Last week, he announced his intent to ask the Florida Legislature to set aside $50 million to expedite repairs to the HHD. The James Madison Institute welcomes his proposal as did House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron by their public statements. Action by policy makers on his proposal will help Floridians greatly and here’s why.

The HHD benefits Floridians in two ways. First, it is the only structure that prevents catastrophic flooding that would destroy tens of thousands of productive agricultural acres, Floridians’ lives, and their livelihoods in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Second, the HHD, once properly repaired, has the potential to prevent the massive water releases by the US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) which cause ecological and economic harm due to massive algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. It is estimated that one million acre-feet of water storage is needed to mitigate the massive water releases.

The HHD was constructed in the 1930’s. Over the years it has deteriorated making in vulnerable to erosion limiting its capacity to hold water. For years now, the federal government (who owns and operates the dike) has been working to effect repairs. The total estimated cost of these repairs is estimated to be $1.7 billion, paid for by federal tax dollars. The project is only halfway complete and completion is scheduled for 2025. Governor Scott hopes his proposals and his relationship with President Trump will lead to the project being completed three years earlier by 2022.

The argument is often made that this is a federal project and, therefore, funding should come from the federal government. However, while that argument drones on, Floridians live with the daily threat of the dike breaching and the inability of the dike to temporarily hold more water during heavy rain events. It may be a federal project but, Florida wins if repairs can be accelerated.

Recently, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine through a report by its Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP) revealed that, once the dike is strengthened, water managers can temporarily raise the water level our 730-square-mile Lake Okeechobee by up to 1.25 feet when emergency wet conditions warrant it. This would provide an extra 564,000 acre-feet (AF) of storage. An additional 1.75 feet of depth would allow up to 800,000 AF of storage.

Couple that addition storage with the storage potential of the recently launched Caulkins Water Farm in Martin County (approximately 100,000 acre-feet), and the completion of the southern reservoir approved during the 2017 legislative session (approximately 240,000 acre-feet by 2031) and Florida will have the kind of storage needed to protect our state’s people, its economy, and its environment.

Living with the status quo is bad for the environment, and more importantly, bad for Floridians. The sooner HHD repairs are complete, the better off Florida will be. Governor Scott get this. Let’s hope policymakers in Tallahassee do, too.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was authorized by Congress in 2000. CISRERP was formed by a Congressional mandate and the Academy to periodically review CERP’s progress. The most recent report is the sixth iteration of its biennial review and sheds light on an option that could bring relief to Florida’s coastal communities faster and at less expense than previously offered ideas.

Accelerated funding for the Herbert Hoover Dike’s repairs would accelerate the capacity to store more water and thus, protect our coastal estuaries from the harmful, massive water releases. In response to the needs of our citizens, our state could loan the federal government money to expedite the repairs. The dike ranks as one of the greatest catastrophic flooding risks in the country, and must be fixed. Once the dike is strengthened, water managers can temporarily raise the level of the 730-square-mile lake by up to 1.25 feet when emergency wet conditions warrant it. Under the current level of federal funding, the dike is not scheduled to be completed until 2025. Experts acknowledge with accelerated funding, the HHD could be ready to store that additional 564,000 AF by 2021

Gov. Rick Scott will push a $50 million proposal to speed up repairs for the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee as part of next year’s fiscal year budget.

Scott said he plans to ask the Legislature to set aside the sum of money to expedite repairs for the federally operated dike, which is slated to be fixed by 2025.

The money, the governor said, would axe three years off that completion date, with the dike finishing in 2022. Scott has already met to discuss the Lake O dike repairs with President Donald Trump, who said he would work hand-in-hand with Scott to make sure the repairs were completed quickly.

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Dan Peterson

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