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Gov. DeSantis announces veto of Lake Okeechobee Water bill and lauds historic investment in Everglades Restoration

John Davis, WGCU
Gov. DeSantis announces historic spending on Everglades restoration and water resource protection as well as veto of SB 2508 at a press conference, June 8 at Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on Fort Myers Beach

Governor Ron DeSantis touted historic spending on Everglades restoration and water resource protection in the state’s coming fiscal year budget at a press conference at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Fort Myers Beach, Wednesday morning.

He also announced the veto of a controversial Lake Okeechobee water supply bill that environmental advocates strongly opposed.

DeSantis lauded a $1.2 billion investment in Everglades restoration and water resources in the state’s $109.9 billion “Freedom First” budget he signed last week for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“The four highest years of fundings for Everglades projects in the history of the state of Florida have been the four years that I have been in office,” said DeSantis.

On his second day as governor in January 2019, DeSantis signed an executive order that pledged an historic $2.5 billion investment in Everglades restoration and water resource protection over four years. The budget he signed last week surpasses that pledge for a total of $3.3 billion.

The coming fiscal year budget includes $558 million for targeted water quality improvements.

“That includes $20 million for down in South Florida with Biscayne Bay. It’s $125 million for our wastewater grant program, which provides resources to local communities for wastewater treatment improvements as well as septic to sewer conversions,” said DeSantis.

The funding also includes $500 million for Everglades restoration, $75 million for restoration of Florida’s springs, and $35 million to prevent and combat toxic red tide and blue-green algae blooms.

The state budget also includes $500 million for the Resilient Florida Grant Program, which provides funding for local municipalities to assess risks to critical infrastructure posed by flooding from sea level rise, storm surge or rain events. DeSantis made an announcement about that program on Lovers Key State Park, also in Lee County, in May.

DeSantis also announced the veto of controversial SB 2508, which environmental advocates argued would have prioritized sugar growers getting irrigation water from Lake Okeechobee over the water supply needs of the Everglades ecosystem.

In his veto letter to Secretary of State Cord Byrd, DeSantis wrote the measure would have created, “unnecessary and redundant regulatory hurdles which may compromise the timely execution and implementation of Everglades restoration projects, water control plans and regulation schedules.”

In a statement supporting the veto, Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell said it would have undermined the state’s conservation land buying program “Florida Forever.” The measure was sponsored by Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow), who’s in line to become Senate President in 2024 and was a priority of current Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Spring Hill).

Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg spoke at the press event packed with DeSantis supporters, in support of the budget and the veto.

“The whole effort here is to end discharges east and west, store, clean and send water south all the way down to Florida Bay,” said Eikenberg.

“That’s the direction it needs to go. That’s the direction that this administration and this governor have set forth. There is no better friend of the Everglades than Ron DeSantis.”

DeSantis also announced that the online portal to apply for many of the state’s environmental project grants like the aforementioned wastewater grant program opened June 8 at protectingfloridatogether.gov/grants.

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