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Scott vetoes money for controversial water-farming projects

Florida legislators, some of whom got helicopter rides and hefty donations to their political action committees, approved millions of taxpayer dollars for a water-farming project that critics compared to corporate welfare.

Now Gov. Rick Scott has wiped it out with the stroke of his pen.

Last week, Scott vetoed a $4.5 million water-farming appropriation in this year's budget. He did so, according to his veto letter, because "water storage projects are more appropriately supported" by the state's five water management districts — not by the taxpayers of the entire state.

When the South Florida Water Management District first launched its water-farming project in 2005, it used money from the taxpayers of its own 16-county area. The project paid ranchers to hold back excess rainwater from filling up Lake Okeechobee, which is surrounded by an unstable dike. When the lake gets too full, the excess is dumped into estuaries on each side of the state, causing algae blooms and fish kills that hurt the economy.

The agency sees water farming — sometimes known as "dispersed water" — as a way to create a series of "reservoirs" without the expense of building anything permanent. Water farming is also considered a better alternative than buying U.S. Sugar land south of the lake to create a flow-way that mimics the way the Everglades' original River of Grass ran through South Florida, since the sugar giant doesn't want to sell.

However, an audit last year by the water district's inspector general found that paying the ranchers and farmers for water farming costs the taxpayers far more than holding that water on public land. As for helping with Lake Okeechobee's high water levels, scientists say water farming stores just a fraction of the water that's needed to be effective.