Congress to the Everglades’ rescue

Roseate spoonbills claim a spot in the shallows of Snake Bight in Florida Bay in Everglades National Park.
Roseate spoonbills claim a spot in the shallows of Snake Bight in Florida Bay in Everglades National Park. Miami Herald Staff

Guess it’s up to Congress to come through for the Everglades. Goodness knows the state of Florida turned its back on at least one big boost the life-sustaining River of Grass needed this year.

In a perfect world, state lawmakers and the governor would have nailed down the long-negotiated deal with U.S. Sugar to buy almost 47,000 acres that it owns. The land would have filled in a missing piece of the puzzle needed to help the state store billions of gallons of water to replenish the Everglades and quench this growing state’s thirst.

The money was there, thanks to voters’ overwhelming support for Amendment 1. The deal had been forged in 2010 — though U.S. Sugar balked at the purchase price late in the game.

Rather than charging forward, state leaders looked the other way. The whole thing was supposed to be over and done with, signed, sealed, delivered by Oct. 12, the day the pact expired.

Instead of a celebratory toast in three weeks, the whole deal was toast earlier this year, when no funds were appropriated for the purchase. Now, according to the Everglades Foundation, Congress is mulling stepping into the void. It should do so with urgency.

The land the state forfeited would have gone some distance to help store, not waste, its critical water supply. There is little storage capacity, especially in the center of the state. As a result, it’s dumping billions of gallons a year into the Gulf and Atlantic. According to the Everglades Foundation, in 2013 Florida dumped 500 billion gallons of water, wasted, unused. This year, 120 billion gallons have been squandered — and that’s taking into account the precipitous decline in Lake Okeechobee’s water levels because of scant rainfall earlier this year. Imagine what water-deprived Californians would think.

The Central Everglades Planning Project, which needs congressional authorization would provide the state half of the $1.7 billion needed for the initiative. If passed, it will remove manmade barriers such as levees, so that water can flow more naturally south to the Everglades.

The state’s lack of action here is especially galling when the governor and lawmakers have been more generous than in years past with funding for the Everglades, though far less than the “record funding” as the governor claimed earlier this year. That milestone occurred under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Everglades are a high-value asset to this state, its environment and its economic vitality. Remember, this is only our drinking water that we’re talking about, and the habitat to sustain wildlife, which also sustains the fishing industry and recreational tourism and … you get the idea.

It’s a shame that Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers didn’t. Florida’s congressional lawmakers should lead their colleagues to a more forward-looking conclusion.