Everglades funding a win-win for Florida

Last week, the Everglades Foundation had the opportunity to present before two legislative committees in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives our recommendations and goals for the 2013 Legislative session.

We welcomed the opportunity to discuss the importance of America’s Everglades with lawmakers, who represent diverse communities across our state. A critical point raised with members of the Legislature is the fact the Everglades provides clean, reliable drinking water for 7 million Floridians — one in three Floridians rely on the Everglades for drinking water.

To maintain a clean Everglades water source, it is imperative that Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended 2013-2014 state budget include $32 million in funding for the new water quality plan, as well as an additional $28 million in funding for specific restoration projects that are in progress or shovel ready.

This potential $60 million in Everglades restoration will enable the state to continue its longstanding efforts to protect this critical ecosystem. Specifically, these needed resources will go toward restoration projects designed to fund construction of reservoirs and the expansion of stormwater treatment areas to store, move and clean polluted water, and ensure water flow from Lake Okeechobee, south into the Everglades and ultimately into Florida Bay.

With Gov. Scott’s support, along with the work of the Florida Legislature, we can create long-term engineering and construction jobs that put people to work, continue the important work of restoration, and ensure a healthy, vibrant Everglades for generations to come.

Some have questioned the large amount of dollars already invested. Can the state’s financial investment into Everglades restoration be quantified? In fact, the Everglades Foundation asked the same question.

A Mather Economics Group study in 2010 concluded that every $1 invested in restoring the Everglades produces a $4 rate of return. Industries, such as real estate, hunting, fishing and boating also experience tremendous benefits from a restored River of Grass. Truly a win-win for all involved.

In addition to supporting continued investment in Everglades restoration, the foundation will be casting a watchful eye on the Everglades Forever Act. The Everglades Forever Act has governed the technical operations of restoration for more than 20 years. We urge the Florida Legislature to use caution in opening up the current law for special interest purposes.

Strategic changes may be in order. But a re-write of specific sections of the law could cause difficulty in the long run. If legislators are looking for solutions to solve the decades-old problem of pollution impact in the Everglades, the Everglades Foundation is eager to assist.

Last year, Research Triangle International (RTI) released a report showing 76 percent of the pollution entering the Everglades is caused by agriculture, yet the industry is only paying 24 percent of the cleanup costs. This disparity needs remedy. Urging for more cleanup costs from those polluting is nothing new. In 1996, 68 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment, stating that those primarily polluting should pay the primary cost of cleanup. Seventeen years later, the numbers — 76 to 24 — are astounding.

The Everglades Foundation is eager to work with the Scott administration, the Florida Legislature and others who are interested in continuing the progress Florida has made in protecting and rehabilitating America’s Everglades. We cannot ignore the opportunity before us.

Eric Eikenberg is chief executive office of the Everglades Foundation.

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