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Southwest Florida environmental groups ecstatic that $1.1 billion for Everglades Restoration is on the way

The federal government announced Wednesday that $1.1 billion of the $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress in November is earmarked to help pay for the Everglades restoration.
The federal government announced Wednesday that $1.1 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress in November is earmarked to help pay for the Everglades restoration.

Environmental groups working to restore the Florida Everglades were elated to learn Wednesday that $1.1 billion from the federal infrastructure package has been earmarked to help pay for the massive, multi-decade restoration.

“This investment in Everglades restoration is unparalleled,” said Kelly Cox, Audubon Florida’s Director of Everglades Policy. “We are thrilled to see this funding coming through and look forward to the many ecological returns it will provide for the Everglades ecosystem.”

The White House said the $1.1 billion is the largest investment in the Everglades restoration effort, ever. That money will be coupled with the $600 million for Everglades restoration in the upcoming budget proposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The money will be used to hasten efforts to undo the extensive environmental damage the Everglades suffered in the 1900s. That’s when the Army Corps built canals, locks and levees in a massive water management and flood control plan before the damaging environmental impacts of such efforts were fully known.

Improving water quality and quantity is the top priority for Everglades restoration.

Under construction south of Lake Okeechobee is a 6,500-acre wetland that will treat water laden with nutrient pollution other agricultural pollutants, which is being built by the South Florida Water Management District. Nearby, the Army Corps is building a reservoir that can hold enough excess water from the lake to bury 240,000 football fields under a foot of water.

Together with a series of canals the treatment and storage basins are designed to reduce releases of untreated water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which have lead to blue-green algae blooms and other water-quality problems in both watersheds. In addition, the reservoir complex will send clean water south, both to restore the historic flow of water through the Everglades and to provide additional supply to many of the nine million people that rely on the basin for drinking water.

“This reservoir will benefit all of South Florida, slashing harmful discharges to the coastal estuaries while providing the water desperately needed for America’s Everglades and Florida Bay,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the non--profit Everglades Foundation. “For too long, the residents of South Florida have suffered as a result of toxic discharges, algae blooms, fish kills, economic losses and a parched Everglades National Park.”

“The Everglades Foundation applauds the federal government’s significant commitment of $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration.”

The $1.1 billion that President Joe Biden set aside for Everglades Restoration is a sliver of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation is bi-partisan, although every Florida Republican member of Congress voted against it. The spending measure aims to help rebuild the nation’s failing bridges and roads, modernizing the aging power grid, preparing the country for environmental challenges brought on by climate change, increasing broadband access to rural areas, and sending tens of million of dollars to transportation needs from airports to Amtrack.

Other priorities in the Everglades restoration include getting a handle on exotic species overtaking the natural order in the marshes and uplands, such as the Burmese python, Cuban tree frogs, and Tegu lizards. Also important is stemming saltwater intrusion, increasing the nesting success of wading birds and mitigating the environmental damage of development to the east and the west.

Since nobody is realistically suggesting to move Miami and Fort Lauderdale, or Naples and Fort Myers, the entirety of the Everglades will never return. However, a section the size of New Jersey remains.

Gov. DeSantis also proposed an additional $500 million in his budget to deal with climate change and rising seas in South Florida, including developing alternative water supplies, reclaiming and protecting springs, installing new sand during beach renourishments, lessening the frequency and duration of blue-green algae blooms and red tides as well as millions for invasive species removal.

Reporting on the environment for WGCU is funded in part by the Volo Foundation.