For decades, one of Florida’s top environmental challenges has been the restoration of the Everglades. It is a perplexing task to meet environmental, economic and human needs for water, all while also preventing flooding around the area. The complexity and enormity of the effort continues to generate heated debate. Fortunately, a variety of plans are being implemented to achieve preservation goals.
A recentBackgrounderreleased by The James Madison Institute, “Solving the Everglades Riddle,” outlines a brief history of the Florida Everglades and reiterates the importance of restoring this Florida legacy. This education piece provides recommendations for how to continue spending restoration dollars in an efficient and effective manner and addresses the significant progress already made toward improving water quality and quantity in the Everglades and surrounding areas.
See the full list of recommended priorities for continued Everglades ecosystem improvement atwww.jamesmadison.org.
More Than a Century of Growth and Change
As population and economic interests in Florida grew, the Everglades area became desired land. As far back as 1850, the Everglades has been drained to make it viable for settlement, first at the direction of the federal government, then to create opportunities for economic development and adjust for population growth in Florida.
In the 1920s and 1940s, several hurricanes hit this area of Florida leading to massive flooding and thousands of deaths. In response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to provide flood control to assist the communities affected, and as a result, the Herbert Hoover Dike was constructed around Lake Okeechobee, along with the addition of several other flood-control mechanisms in Central and South Florida. These large water-control projects altered the Everglades ecosystem. To reverse the adverse effects of the massive public works projects and preserve as much of the remaining Everglades as possible, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to secure a balance of maintaining quality of life for residents, while restoring the Everglades.
Several state and federal restoration plans, such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan), the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program and others, have provided meaningful results in the journey to restore the Everglades system. What many Floridians may not know is around the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Area, the South Florida Water Management District monitors and tracks the status of more than 60 construction projects, as each area has its own local restoration needs.
Stakeholders have engaged in thoughtful processes for each plan, as they must be studied, authorized, and then funded before implementation. Continually making changes to these plans, as some have advocated, is not only costly, but also detrimental to a timely conclusion of Everglades restoration.
Spending Taxpayer Dollars Wisely to Achieve Desired Results
The Florida Legislature recently passed “Legacy Florida,” which dedicates additional, reoccurring annual funds toward the multi-billion dollar backlog of projects on existing publicly owned lands for Everglades restoration. More land acquisition is not a viable solution and would be a diversion of restoration efforts requiring taxpayer dollars for both the purchase and ongoing maintenance expenses. The government already owns nearly 30% of all land in Florida for conservation purposes. Buying more would be costly, poor stewardship and an opportunity wasted.
Restoration of the Everglades has been and continues to be a huge undertaking with many moving parts. Floridians should continue to hold policymakers and stakeholders accountable to ensure taxpayer dollars are allocated wisely. Measureable, positive results have already been achieved, and new funding sources will help Florida maintain a steady course toward continued Everglades ecosystem improvement. The future looks bright for this Florida legacy.
Everglades Restoration at a Glance
$1.8 billion spent to date by the State of Florida on restoration
$938 million spent to date by the federal government on restoration
$880 million approved in 2013 by the Florida Legislature for a new plan, “Everglades Restoration Strategies”
Amendment 1, recently approved by voters, adds more than $200 million per year in additional, dedicated state funding for the Everglades
More than 90% of Everglades water quality restored south of Lake Okeechobee
Stormwater Treatment Areas: 57,000 acres of water treatment south of Lake Okeechobee; removed 80% of phosphorus last year
Best Management Practices: Partnership with farmers; reduced phosphorus by 79% last year
Nearly half of the land in South Florida is owned by the government. This costs you money. Watch now to learn more:www.jamesmadison.org