Ron DeSantis Wants $725 Million From Joe Biden for Everglades Restoration

Touring South Florida on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Biden administration to send $725 million for Everglades restoration.

“In Florida, we are doing our part to expedite Everglades restoration projects and restore the flow of water south from Lake Okeechobee. Under my administration, we have expedited the EAA Reservoir Project, begun constructing the Stormwater Treatment Area 12 months ahead of schedule, and invested over $2 billion in water quality and Everglades funding,” said DeSantis. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is developing a new water control manual for Lake Okeechobee, and they must allow flexibility in the management to avoid harmful discharges in our estuaries and send more water south during Florida’s dry season. Status quo lake management is not an option.”

DeSantis, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Sec. Noah Valenstein and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Board of Directors toured Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers on Monday.

“Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state has made great strides in advancing Everglades restoration projects that will restore the natural flow of clean water through the Everglades and send more water south to where it’s needed most. However, it is also vital that the Corps works in concert with the state of Florida to ensure Lake Okeechobee water levels are managed in a manner that puts us in the best position to avoid harmful summertime discharges to the northern estuaries,” said Valenstein.

“I appreciate Governor DeSantis’ leadership to call for improved Lake Okeechobee management by the Corps and increased funding for Everglades restoration,” said Chauncey Goss, the chairman of the SFWMD. “We’ve seen firsthand the impact that harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges have on Floridians’ lives and businesses. The status quo of lake management that views our estuary communities as dumping grounds for excess water cannot continue. While Florida prioritizes moving water south to the Everglades and away from our estuaries, the U.S. Army Corps must ensure Lake Okeechobee management supports our ongoing Everglades restoration efforts while avoiding harmful estuary discharges.”

“Moving more water south during the dry season will help meet the water needs of South Florida’s growing population and provide much-needed freshwater for the Everglades and Florida Bay. Sending water south from Lake Okeechobee will also have a profound effect on reducing the releases of harmful algal blooms to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. We commend Governor DeSantis for his leadership in ensuring water fairness for all of South Florida’s water needs and urge the Corps to adopt a more equitable schedule that meets the growing needs of Florida’s 21st century economy,” said Eric Eikenberg, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation.

At the start of March, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and every U.S. House member representing Florida sent a letter to Biden, calling on him to include $725 million for Everglades restoration in his first budget proposal.

The Everglades Caucus, led by U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., helped spearhead the effort. Hastings passed away last month of pancreatic cancer.

“I’m proud to once again lead this letter with my colleague, Rep. Alcee Hastings, asking the Administration to include $725 million for Everglades restoration projects in the FY22 budget proposal,” said Diaz-Balart.“Creating awareness and securing federal funding for Everglades restoration and conservation efforts has always been a top priority for me as co-chair and co-founder of the House Everglades Caucus. The Everglades is a national treasure and utterly vital to Florida’s economy and ecosystem. We must continue doing all we can to ensure the preservation of this unique ecosystem, and this funding would go a long way towards that goal.”

“Public health and our economy has been ravaged by a global pandemic and economic downturn. Our State would greatly benefit from this infusion of funding to recover and become more resilient in the face of future crises. Everglades restoration provides the ideal model for the benefits of investing in these conservation and infrastructure projects as laid out in the Administration’s plan to revitalize and maintain a more reliable American labor economy through long-term and comprehensive land restoration and green infrastructure,” said Hastings. “In addition to the direct benefits to Florida’s communities and economy, restoration and preservation of America’s largest sub-tropical wilderness is vital to the health of the ecosystem, biodiversity, and climate resiliency. I am proud to be working with my Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, to call on Congress to deliver these resources that will enable optimal benefits to our communities and natural systems.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., weighed in on why he was backing this effort.

“President Trump made historic progress on Everglades restoration, and now it’s time to build on that momentum with an even larger commitment,” Mast said. “With the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir within our grasp, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal to stop discharges and send the water south once and for all!”

“Florida’s environmental assets attracted 131 million visitors in 2019, directly infusing nearly $100 billion into the state’s economy. Environmental disasters in years prior, such as severe harmful algal blooms, undermined economic stability in communities whose economies are completely dependent on a clean environment,” Rubio and the House members wrote Biden. “Your commitment to supporting robust SFER funding at $725 million for FY22 would help solidify and build upon our recent environmental infrastructure successes in Florida, and would indicate to the state that your administration fully stands by this ecosystem restoration project that is of central importance to Floridians.”

Also at the start of MarchU.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., sent a letter to Biden calling on him to fund the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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