Everglades restoration scored a major victory over the weekend when Congress approved a long-awaited waterworks bill.
The $10 billion bill comes at the end of a year filled with water woes that wilted Florida Bay and left Treasure Coast estuaries coated in slimy green algae, and includes authorization for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The $1.9 billion project, which splits the tab between the state and federal government, is intended to speed up work critical to reviving the flow of water south to keep marshes healthy and help fend off saltwater intrusion threatening South Florida’s water supplies.
The bill now goes to the White House for final approval.
CEPP can bring approximately 67 billion gallons of water to improve the habitat in Florida Bay, especially preventing future seagrass die-offs currently threatening valuable fisheries in the Florida Keys.
Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg
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“CEPP can bring approximately 67 billion gallons of water to improve the habitat in Florida Bay, especially preventing future seagrass die-offs currently threatening valuable fisheries in the Florida Keys,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a statement.
The massive Everglade project fell behind over the years because the original plan relied on Congress regularly approving such bills, which historically occurred every two years. Since 2007, bills fell apart amid partisan bickering. More than halfway into the 30-year program, no major project has been completed.
But last year, Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the only senator to vote against the master plan to fix the Everglades and the powerful chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, agreed to push the bill forward at the request of Sen. Marco Rubio. At the time was, Rubio was trailing Donald Trump just days before the Florida Republican primary.
In applauding the bill, environmental advocates singled out the bipartisan work that led to the approval.
“The bipartisan Everglades champions in Congress have advanced a key part of the solution to Florida’s 2016 water crises,” said Audubon Florida’s Julie Hill Gabriel. CEPP “will finally begin to reestablish the historic River of Grass between Lake Okeechobee and the Southern Everglades and Florida Bay, that has been diverted to accommodate development and agriculture.”
$1..9 billionThe total cost for the Central Everglades projects, to be split between Florida and the U.S. government.
But Hill also pointed out a sticking point that has become a new obstacle in restoration: the need for a massive reservoir south of the lake. Incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron has vowed to ignore resistence from agricultural interests to a plan to buy land from U.S. Sugar for a massive reservoir to store and clean water. The reservoir was included in a University of Florida study that examined ways to reduce the release of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the Treasure Coast. However, he’s likely to face opposition from House speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who told the Palm Beach Post on Friday he plans on cutting spending “in a significant way.”
In addition to the Everglades project, the water bill also included money $337 million to pay for deepening Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, $170 million to deal with lead in drinking water in Flint, MI, and $558 for drought-relief in California.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich