U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee is seeking funding to start a planned three-year study by the U.S. Department of the Interior of a portion of the Kissimmee River in connection with a proposal to include it on the list of Wild and Scenic Rivers in the United States.
Soto has been quoted as saying the approval of the designation, which still faces a number of hurdles, could protect a portion of the river from development encroachment and could pave the way for further restoration funding.
The Kissimmee River was converted from a wild, winding river system into a drainage ditch in the 1960s in response to flooding in its headwaters in the 1940s.
The project, which was opposed at the time by environmentalists and outdoor recreationists, was later recognized as an environment disaster. It dried up floodplain marshes, causing severe declines in waterfowl and other wetlands-dependent wildlife. The project also eliminated those marshes’ ability to filter pollution flowing toward Lake Okeechobee from, the river’s headwaters in the Orlando-Kissimmee area.
A $1 billion restoration project of a portion of the river’s original channel, which was completed last year, resulted in a rebound in wildlife populations though state and federal officials are still working on legacy pollution issues in the system.
The proposed study would involve a section of the river beginning about 16 miles south of Lake Kissimmee and ending about 15 miles upstream from Lake Okeechobee.
Further Congressional action is pending the completion of the study, which is estimated to cost no more than $500,000, according to backup information accompanying the House bill. Any spending and other actions would require U.S. Senate concurrence.