Florida Governor Plans $1.25 Billion for Everglades Rescue

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Florida, January 18, 2000 (ENS) - The state of Florida will spend $1.25 billion over the next 10 years to restore the Everglades, Florida Governor Jeb Bush said today. The Florida Legislature must now approve the proposal for it to become law.

The plan to finance the state’s portion of Everglades Restoration creates an Everglades trust fund, the Everglades Restoration Reserve Fund, to help build reserves for restoration.

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Florida Governor Jeb Bush (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Governor Bush is calling for a new, stronger state/federal partnership to cover the cost of restoring the degraded wetlands.

The federal government is expected to pay for half of the total costs of the nearly $8 billion Everglades Restoration project. The remaining half will be funded evenly between statewide and South Florida resources.

Governor Bush’s plan includes a state commitment of more than $100 million annually to be matched by an additional $100 million from South Florida resources for a total of $200 million each year. This plan is designed to allow Florida to fully fund its share of total project costs debt free.

"My plan is on the same order as Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever," said Governor Bush. "It begins with a down payment from the state of $123 million in year one and builds from there. And, when coupled with the more than $100 million a year from South Florida local and water management resources, Florida will have honored its 50 percent commitment to Washington, D.C. Today, we are indeed ready, willing and waiting for our federal partners to match our commitment."

Reaction from environmentalists was positive. President of the National Audubon Society, John Flicker, said, "Governor Bush's landmark restoration funding plan gives hope for the Everglades. In finding the right balance between local, state and federal spending, he increases the chance of cooperation among urban, agricultural and conservation interests. It sends a message to Congress that Florida is invested in saving our national treasure."

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Aerial view of Everglades National Park which is about one-fifth of the total Everglades wetland area. (Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District)
The governor urged that Congress take up a "stand-alone bill" to authorize this project. This bill would outline the framework for the partnership between the state and federal government, provide for a performance based relationship and demonstrate that Everglades restoration is a national priority.

During the 2000 session, Congress is expected to consider legislation to implement the Everglades Restoration Plan developed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We cannot achieve our vision for a restored Everglades alone," said Governor Bush. "We must build a full and complete partnership that breaks down barriers and cuts across bureaucratic boundaries. Florida wishes to be part of a unified management structure that not only shares project costs, but also a common incentive for creating efficiencies, savings and improved environmental performance."

The Bush plan includes the following elements:

Some restoration efforts are already having positive effects. On January 4, for the fourth consecutive year, the South Florida Water Management District reported a significant decline in the amount of phosphorus in the water coming off farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. Phosphorus is a nutrient that over-enriches the water allowing the growth of species that crowd out native plants and animals.

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Agricultural runoff pours into the Everglades wetlands. (Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District)
"While the latest phosphorus measurements continue to show great progress in reducing the loads in EAA runoff, we still have a long way to go," says engineer Frank Finch, district executive director. "We at the District are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that we and our partners remain vigilant in delivering clean water to the Everglades as part of the overall restoration.

Everglades National Park is the largest remaining sub-tropical wilderness in the continental United States and has extensive fresh and saltwater areas, open Everglades prairies, and mangrove forests. Abundant wildlife includes rare and colorful birds, and this is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side. The park is 1,506,539 acres (606,688 hectares) in size. It is a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance.

But now, extensive canal and levee systems shunt off rain for agricultural use before it can reach the national park, which makes up only one-fifth of the historic Everglades.

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White ibis flies in the Everglades (Photo by Patti Bailey of Cyber Island/Marco Island Florida)
At times the water control structures at the park boundary are closed and no water nourishes the plants, birds and animals. Or water control structures are opened and unnaturally pent-up, human managed floodwaters inundate Everglades creatures' nests or eggs and disperse seasonal concentrations of the wading birds' prey.

Added to these problems is the presence of pollutants from agriculture and other human activities. Nutrient-enriched waters from agricultural runoff affect plants and animals. High levels of mercury are identified in all levels of the food chain, from the fish in the marsh through raccoons and alligators. The problem extends to the Florida panther, a species so endangered that its numbers may be less than 30 in the entire state. Fewer than ten survive in the park. A panther with mercury levels that would be toxic to humans was found dead in Everglades National Park, the National Park Service said.

Florida Congressman Mark Foley analyzed the agricultural pattern of the Everglades in a 1997 speech. "Sugarcane, the plant, is still the most benign crop grown in the Everglades agricultural area, requiring less water than rice, releasing fewer polluting nutrients than vegetables or cattle pastures. Studies show that the crops that might supplant sugarcane would pose a greater threat to the environment and, if the land became fallow, it would be quickly overtaken by melaleuca and Brazilian pepper." These last two invasive plants have rapidly crowded out Everglades native species.

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Mangrove tunnel in the Everglades Florida Bay (Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District)
In response to today's funding proposal, Flicker of the Audubon Society said, "The success of Everglades restoration will be measured by abundant wading birds and continued prosperity brought about by plentiful water. The new funds will restore habitat and create reservoirs to store rainwater. This is a good plan for birds and people and deserves the support of all of Florida's citizens."

Governor Bush said the funding plan, establishment of the Everglades Restoration Reserve Fund, and the call for a fuller partnership with the federal government, are all aimed at achieving a vision for America's Everglades that, "restores a unique national treasure, saves 68 endangered or protected species, preserves our quality of life, achieves a balance between land and water, and protects our coastal resources."