The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Everglades on the line


OUR OPINION: Senate needs to act on vital water legislation

Here’s a riddle: What’s vital to the future of Florida, involves numerous interest groups around the country and is coming up for a crucial vote in the U.S. Senate? Hint: It’s not the hot-button immigration reform bill that has the chattering class inside the Beltway all a-buzz.

It’s not sexy, it’s not politically partisan and you’re not likely to see angry talking heads screaming about it on TV — which is why you may not have heard of the debate over the Water Resources Development Act that began last week on the floor of the Senate.

But for all its lack of glitz, passage of the bill is crucial to the future of Florida and its ability to compete economically.

The long-awaited action on the bill would give the federal government authority to invest in all kinds of water projects around the country, from upgrading inland waterways to improving America’s harbors, ports and coastal areas.

Closer to home, it also allows funding for six projects in Florida and reauthorization of beach nourishment programs in coastal communities that have suffered significant damage from recent tropical storms, from Broward County on the Atlantic to Captiva on the Gulf of Mexico. As Florida Sen. Bill Nelson pointed out during floor debate, the last time Congress passed a similar measure was 2007. Gridlock on Capitol Hill and the controversy over earmarks have resulted in costly delays in the ensuing years, lending urgency to the current debate and the need for action.

For South Florida, the most crucial portion involves the Everglades. In 2000, Congress promised to begin repairing and restoring the River of Grass, along with the state, knowing that future legislation would be required to meet this commitment. Since then, the 2007 bill has made significant progress possible on projects like the Indian River Lagoon and Picayune Strand.

But a second era of projects has been left on the drawing board for years awaiting action by Congress. That includes four more restoration works in the Everglades that should have been well underway by now.

Without the federal government’s continued support for water improvement projects, Florida will be in trouble and Everglades restoration will be stalled. The Senate needs to move as quickly as possible to finish debating floor amendments and pass the bill, if nothing else to demonstrate to a skeptical public that it is still capable of decisive action on important legislation.

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