$1 billion for the Everglades: Biden administration proposes historic funding for environmental restoration

A historic increase in Everglades funding was announced Wednesday by the Biden administration, with a plan to spend an unprecedented $1.1 billion to restore South Florida’s famous wilderness.

“The Administration is making the largest single investment in the Everglades in U.S. history,” the White House said in a statement. “The iconic American landscape provides drinking water supply for over 8 million Floridians, supports the state’s $90 billion tourism economy, and is home to dozens of endangered or threatened species.”

The restoration of the Everglades involves dozens of projects intended to restore, or at least mimic, the natural flow of clean water through the sawgrass, tree islands and wet prairies west of metro South Florida. About half of the original 40-mile-wide, 100-mile-long Everglades has been lost to farms and urban development.

What remains suffers from an insufficient flow of fresh water, allowing soil to dry out and burn away. Open-water areas have shrunk, reducing habitat for fish, snakes and frogs. Deprived of prey, once-awesome gatherings of wading birds, painted in white, pink, green and blue, have withered to shadows of what they had been.

The funding comes from the Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, designed to shore up roads, bridges, ports and other public assets. The bill received 13 votes from Republican representatives, none from Florida.

Drawing criticism

“Not a single Florida Republican voted for this funding,” U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, said in a telephone news conference Wednesday with Democrats and environmentalists. “This funding that is going to benefit the entire state, Republicans and Democrats. But not one Republican voted for this. And I’m so proud to be joined by my fellow Florida Democrats in supporting President Biden’s Everglades plan.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, blasted the spending plan for failing to include a reservoir intended to store fresh water and reduce freshwater discharges that bring toxic algae to the coasts.

He called the omission a “massive screwup.”

“It’s clear that Joe Biden has no regard for the well-being of South Florida’s environment, economy or public health,” he said in a news release.

Mast had voted against Biden’s infrastructure bill under which the Everglades projects were funded, calling the bill a “multitrillion dollar socialist wishlist with the largest tax increase in decades to pay for it.”

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, criticized Republicans for attacking Biden’s plan, saying, “It’s the height of hypocrisy for Republican members who voted against this bill to then criticize this historic investment.”

“We should be celebrating this historic win for Florida instead of trying to score political points for criticizing the President,” she said.

An ‘unparalleled’ investment

Environmental groups, which have blamed insufficient funding for the slow pace of Everglades restoration, applauded the funding announcement.

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

One set of projects, for example, would send more water to the wetlands of the southern Everglades, where the natural rhythms of water flow had been disrupted by drainage canals, ruining habitat for wildlife.

“We’re really excited about that because we need more water to be sent south,” Cox said in an interview. “And these projects are going to do that.”

Another project is a water impoundment area in Broward County along the western border of Weston, as part of a larger Everglades buffer zone. The immediate project is intended to reduce the amount of polluted runoff flowing into the Everglades from Broward County cities.

And it’s part of a larger series of wetlands and reservoirs intended to reduce the loss of fresh water from the Everglades to the urbanized area and improve habitat for wood storks, snail kites and other wildlife.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office issued a statement calling the funding increase long overdue, since the federal government’s Everglades spending had lagged behind the amount spent by the state.

But the statement, issued by DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, said the Biden plan “fails to fund some of the most critical Everglades projects.” And it joined Rep. Mast in attacking the lack of funding for a reservoir to reduce polluted discharges to the ocean, a project on which the state has already begun work.

“It is disappointing that not a single dime of this investment is going to the critically important EAA Reservoir Project, which would reduce harmful discharges and send more water to the Everglades,” the statement said.

Looking ahead

The overall restoration plan calls for removing levees, filling in canals, storing fresh water and constructing other projects that will allow the Everglades to thrive and improve habitat for wading birds, alligators, panthers and other wildlife.

Approved in 2000, the Everglades restoration plan has ballooned in cost and fallen years behind schedule. The state and federal governments are splitting the cost of the restoration work.

“Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Army Corps will invest $1.1 billion to restore, protect, and preserve the South Florida ecosystem and increase its resilience to the impacts of climate change,” the White House said. “These funds will support improvements to the Everglades by capturing and storing excess surface water runoff, reducing excess water releases to water conservation areas, and minimizing seepage losses during dry periods.”

The consequences of the human impact on the Everglades show up in countless ways across South Florida, from toxic algae blooms to wildfires to vastly diminished flocks of wading birds.

“The Everglades is the lifeblood of South Florida, and this historic funding commitment by the Biden administration will ensure we can much more aggressively move to restore and protect the natural sheet flow of water that is the largest environmental restoration project in American history,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, co-chair of the House Everglades Caucus.

Article Reposted from the SunSentinel. Article was written by David Fleshler.