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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Can Florida afford to continue restoring the Everglades?
Frank Bentayou
Florida’s budget is under stress. The governor and legislature have shown a willingness to cut environmental expenditures. So far, Everglades restoration initiatives have cost the state more than $4 billion. Florida citizens and, really, the whole nation, have cast the survival of our River of Grass not only in economic -- but moral -- terms. Florida’s agricultural industry relies heavily on the Everglades as does tourism. Many environmentalists value the richness of this singular eco-system with almost religious fervor. Check out what our five roundtable participants have to say.
Melissa Meeker

Contrary to the unsubstantiated cries of a handful of environmentalists, reducing spending at the South Florida Water Management District is not bringing Everglades restoration to a grinding halt. Reducing taxes by more than 30 percent, the District is streamlining operations, eliminating unnecessary expenses and getting back to its core mission of flood control, water supply and ecosystem restoration. In doing so, we are saving South Floridians $128 million, the majority of which has been realized by cutting excessive overhead and building a leaner, more efficient agency.

Even with these changes, the district still employs a dynamic 1,647 employees, close to half of whom are dedicated to operating South Florida’s massive flood control system. More than 25 percent of our workforce hold Ph.D. or Master’s degrees, and we have more than 150 certified professional engineers and geologists. This highly qualified, capable and competent workforce is focused on effectively achieving the agency’s water management responsibilities.


As for funding our core mission, more than 70 percent of the agency’s $557 million budget this year will go toward flood control and protecting the environment. With an investment of more than $850 million in 2011 and 2012 combined, we will bring a half dozen restoration projects to construction completion this year. It is important to note that agency reductions were not made at the expense of restoration. In fact, over the next five years, the district will use reserves to invest another $350 million primarily to improve water storage and water quality in the norther and southern Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds. These efforts will engage our federal partners -- and those constituents with an interest in being a part of the solution -- in achieving our shared restoration objectives.


Just like most businesses, governments and households today, the district is cutting back on excess spending and focusing its resources on priorities. Despite the invalid complaints of a vocal few, prudent fiscal planning and a streamlined operation is allowing the district to both lower taxes and press ahead with important projects that will protect the environmental and economic interests of South Florida.

Steven Hayward

There is less encouraging news to report about Florida’s Everglades restoration effort. The National Research Council’s Second Biennial Review of Progress toward Restoring the Everglades was released in 2008. This 271-page review essentially concludes that there has been little or no progress.

Despite the commitment of billions of dollars in state and federal funds and enthusiastic support for the project from Florida’s state government, “The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) has made only scant progress toward achieving restoration goals and is mired in budgeting, planning, and procedural matters.” 

Although the CERP was set in motion back in 2000, “as of mid-2008, the first components of the project have not been completed,” including the development of protocols and baselines for performance measures. The report warns that without greater “political leadership to align research, planning, funding and management with restoration goals, the Restoration Plan could become an abbreviated series of disconnected projects that ultimately fail to meet the restoration goals.” The report speculates further that the entire effort will lose public support.

 As it took decades to degrade the Everglades ecosystem, it will surely take decades for a remediation effort to pay off. There are a few signs of small progress, including the reversal of the channelization of the Kissimmee River and plans for the state of Florida to acquire nearly 180,000 acres of land currently used for unnecessary sugar cane production. 

Overall, however, the Biennial Review paints a picture of a procedural and bureaucratic morass—not a model of effective environmental restoration. A reform of the paperwork-and-meeting–to–effect ratio probably needs to be undertaken, moving toward a simpler and more direct approach to the problem. An Everglades “czar” perhaps?

Will Weatherford

Good stewardship of our natural resources is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a Florida issue. It is in our collective best interest to ensure that the restoration efforts will continue for one of our signature eco-treasures, the Florida Everglades. Not only is it vital for our environment and our water supply, but it also makes economic sense. 

The Florida Everglades is part of our unique brand that draws visitors and also residents to our state. Furthermore, money spent on Everglades restoration has an immediate impact on Florida’s economy. Construction of water storage areas, bridging of Tamiami Trail and other state and federal restoration projects provide needed jobs to both employers and employees.


Candidly, we have not invested at the levels that advance restoration at an aggressive pace. I commend Governor Rick Scott for including $40 million in his budget this year; it is an action that takes us in the right direction.


Our state, like the rest of the nation, has experienced a significant downturn in the economy. Unlike other states that are facing double-digit tax increases and are teetering on insolvency, we have remained stable and strong. The result of this fiscal discipline will be the ability to return to more robust economic landscape. In turn, more funding will enable us not simply to tread water, but to take a more proactive approach on this state priority.


I believe the 2012 Legislative Session will be the starting point for building a better funding trajectory for the Florida Everglades, an action that is sure to improve our water supply, our environment and our economy.

Andrew McElwaine
President, Conservancy of Southwest Florida

One in three Floridians depend directly on the Everglades for daily supplies of fresh water -- more than six million residents.  And the fierce competition for water among citizens, agribusiness, and the fish and wildlife of the Everglades could pose a severe constraint on regional growth unless more water becomes available.

So it is good news that Florida Governor Rick Scott included $40 million in his budget request for Everglades restoration.  While down substantially from the $200 million made available in earlier years, it is an increase over last year and demonstrates the governor’s support for continuing the work.  But the news is not all good.  When it comes to the Everglades, Florida seems to have a split personality.

While the state and federal government are increasing their financial support, the South Florida Water Management District’s budget was slashed more than 30 percent, delaying water supply and storage projects and setting back the completion of restoration.  And while federal and state funds are helping put a failed 55,000 acre sub-division in Collier County’s Everglades back to its natural state, developers are proposing 45,000 acres of new commercial and residential projects just a stone’s throw away.  What one hand gives the Everglades another often takes away.

If restoration is going to succeed, the region and the state will need to reach consensus on the importance of the Everglades.  For instance, restoration is, and will be for decades, a job creator, enhancing property values, boosting tourism and helping accommodate future population growth. An in-depth study by Mather Economics for the Everglades Foundation found that the $11.5 billion cost to restore the Everglades ecosystem will result in an economic impact of at least $46.5 billion and potentially as much as $124 billion.  Benefits include an increase in the amount and the purity of freshwater. That means reducing the need and cost of desalination -- a cost that is passed onto taxpayers.  The Mather study also found that restoring the Everglades will produce more than 440,000 jobs in the decades to come. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that an additional 22,000 jobs will be created, in the short term, on Everglades restoration construction work.

Everglades restoration should be seen in the same light as improving roads, waterways, port capacity, and other vital parts of our state's infrastructure.  If we stay on our current course, millions of Floridians will continue to compete with agricultural and industrial users for an ever-shrinking supply of water.  Everglades restoration is important to all of us. 

Eric Draper

If Florida hopes to maintain the quality of life and tremendous natural resources for its residents and give a reason for tourists to continue to flock to our great state, there is no choice but to restore the Everglades. In times of lean budgets, this requires a commitment from Florida’s governor and legislature to maintain the Everglades as a priority worth investing in.  Governor Rick Scott’s current budget proposes $40 million for Everglades restoration and the Legislature, which actually writes and passes the budget, must fund the Everglades at the highest level possible.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, consisting of a suite of more than 60 individual restoration projects, requires a partnership between the state and federal government to plan and implement the projects, as well as a 50/50 cost share to fund their construction.  While federal contributions to Everglades restoration projects lagged behind the state for many years, more recent times have shown a surge in the federal commitment.  If Florida expects to see continued federal investment in the Everglades, it must keep up its end of the bargain and remain diligent in funding Everglades restoration at an adequate level. 


The six restoration projects across the Everglades are underway, providing construction jobs as they are built, and creating not only ecological lift from the improved quality and quantities of water that they deliver, but economic benefits as well.  These benefits come in the form of fewer toxic algal blooms that threaten our health, improved fisheries to supply our food, and increased wildlife abundances that drive ecotourism.  In fact, a recent economic study showed that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, approximately four dollars in economic benefits are generated.  Clearly, a failure to invest in restoring the Everglades is a failure to improve our state’s economy.


The commitment to restore the Everglades for future generations of Floridians doesn’t simply end with the allocation of funds, however.  Appropriate laws and policies, from safeguarding the freshwater resources that replenish the Everglades to ensuring that impacts to wetlands are properly permitted, are required to ensure that our investment in restoration projects is not jeopardized by inadequate protections.  Lean fiscal times do not justify cutting the programs and dismantling the policies that protect the Everglades ecosystem.  


The Florida Legislature must listen to Florida voters, 62% of whom believe that our current environmental policies are not strong enough, and resist attempts to weaken regulations that will negatively impact Florida’s natural resources. In addition, reinstating the ability of water management districts to raise revenue will enable them to continue to supply the expertise and funds for essential water resource projects that are critical to maintain Everglades restoration progress.


Besides majestic beauty, the Everglades also provides one and three Floridians with a source of drinking water.  Its protection and restoration is not a choice but a duty to ensure the sustainable future of our great state.


by Dr. Radut.