Lake Okeechobee reservoir
Photo from USGS/NASA

South Florida’s water troubles continued to be a hot political issue Friday after Governor Rick Scott said the U.S. Senate is backing the state’s plan to build a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Scott made the announcement after a morning phone call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who gave “approval” for the reservoir to be part of the American Water Infrastructure Act.

“Another step forward for this critical environmental project is great news for Florida. I appreciate Senator McConnell’s commitment to moving this project forward to help reduce blue-green algal blooms.” said Gov. Scott. “I have fought for this project and our communities impacted by algal blooms for years, and now we must focus on getting the federal government to fully fund their fair share of the reservoir and Everglades restoration.”

The announcement came on the same day two Democratic Cabinet candidates — Nikki Fried, who is running for agriculture commissioner, and Jeremy Ring, who is running for chief financial officer — were in Southwest Florida participating in roundtable discussions on water-related problems.

The state Democratic Party called Scott’s announcement a “political stunt.” Waters across South Florida have been impacted by toxic algae and red tide, and the reservoir is intended to move water away from Lake Okeechobee and reduce polluted lake discharges that residents blame for repeated algae outbreaks on both coasts.

The state Democratic Party said the reservoir money had already been slotted for the water infrastructure act after the White House gave its backing to the project in July.

“Rick Scott used his office to turn one of the most important issues facing South Florida into a political stunt,” the Democratic Party said in a statement. “Scott boasted about securing a Lake O fix. The fact is … this work was already done by Senator (Bill) Nelson and Senator (Marco) Rubio.”

The proposed reservoir, a roughly $1.6 billion project sought by Florida Senate President Joe Negron in 2017, is being planned with the expectation that the federal government will cover half the cost.