Environment

U.S. House signs off on key Everglades work

On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed a major water bill that includes work to fix ailing marshes in the Everglades and help end seasonal flushing of Lake Okeechobee that triggered algae blooms on the Treasure Coast.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed a major water bill that includes work to fix ailing marshes in the Everglades and help end seasonal flushing of Lake Okeechobee that triggered algae blooms on the Treasure Coast. Miami Herald Staff

The U.S. House passed its version of a major water bill Wednesday, clearing the way for a big chunk of work needed to restore Florida’s ailing Everglades.

In a 399-25 vote, representatives overwhelmingly approved the Water Resources Development Act that includes the Central Everglades Planning Project, a suite of key projects intended to target work in the central marshes. In September, the Senate passed a similar bill. The two chambers still need to iron out small differences, but supporters are hopeful that will happen after the presidential election in November, said Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades Policy for Audubon Florida.

“The path ahead looks clear,” she said. “That will be such an important step for the Everglades and really get that central Everglades project in the ground and start to address the problems we’ve seen this year.”

Passing the bill, known as WRDA, also signals that Congress may be on track to resume passing regular water bills needed to keep up with restoration work, Hill-Gabriel said. Efforts lagged between 2007 and 2014 when contentious politics kept the bills from being passed. In 2014, a WRDA passed, but Everglades work failed to make the cut after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers balked at the last minute at signing off on the Central Everglades projects.

“One of the top things we look at when people ask why the Everglades hasn’t made more progress is the whole program was set up on the notion that every two years it gets new funding. You keep the pipeline moving,” she said. “So getting back on two-year cycles will really help us get back to that progress.”

News of the approval was also applauded by the American Sportfishing Association, which in a statement said the use of wetlands, dunes and other natural features over man-made fixes to control flooding was a welcome change.

“It should be encouraging to sportsmen that Congress is making definitive moves to advance important conservation measures with major impacts for fish, wildlife, and water quality at a time when they are tasked with so much,” said Steve Kline, director of government relations for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

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