From the desk of our Executive Director, Eve Samples, your Voice of the Everglades update:
The movement you empower at Friends of the Everglades hinges on a vision for the future of Florida:
It’s about clean water, protected wetlands, thriving native species, and plenty of protected green spaces for us all to enjoy. In essence, it’s about a truly restored River of Grass that works with nature instead of against it.
That vision is still achievable — but the window is narrowing. And Tallahassee lawmakers are making our work harder.
There’s a disconnect between the decisions we’re seeing from the Florida Legislature and the environmental challenges facing Florida, as Executive Director Eve Samples told the Miami Herald last week.
Even as a massive fertilizer-fueled algae bloom blankets Lake Okeechobee, state lawmakers just passed a law that, for the next year, prohibits local governments from enacting strict new fertilizer ordinances. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the fertilizer industry-backed preemption bill on Thursday — the same day he signed the state’s budget at an event in Fort Piece.
As you might expect of a budget-signing ceremony, there was a lot of hoopla — especially surrounding the $694 million for Everglades projects. It’s tempting to cheer on this spending like we might cheer on a stock-market rally — but the numbers don’t tell the full story. And they raise a whole bunch of questions:
Will these projects hold polluters accountable? Will they protect us from toxic algae? Will they stop Lake Okeechobee discharges?
There are no guarantees they will. Here’s a glimpse at some of what some of that money will pay for:
$356.5 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan: This includes the shrunken-down Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir (which the National Academy of Sciences has raised questions about), the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (which consists of “Aquifer Storage and Recovery” wells that will primarily benefit agriculture, not the environment), and the C-43 Reservoir (a deep reservoir designed to capture farm runoff before it reaches the Caloosahatchee River). There’s also money for Biscayne Bay, where plans are being formulated to restore over-drained wetlands.
$96.1 million for the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program: A signature element of this program gives taxpayer money to farmers to hold excess water on their land.
$58 million for Restoration Strategies: Launched during Rick Scott’s tenure as governor, this is the state’s response to court-ordered phosphorus pollution limits for the Everglades. Those limits resulted from Clean Water Act litigation brought by Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe decades ago. The resulting manmade marshes, known as Stormwater Treatment Areas, are some of the best projects ever built for the Everglades — and we need more of them.
The Indian River Lagoon got another $100 million in the state budget. The 156-mile estuary that lost about 90% of its seagrass in recent years, prompting a massive manatee die-off and a state program to feed romaine lettuce to manatees. Full restoration of the lagoon is estimated at more than $5 billion, and this money is an incremental step.
The bottom line: Big budget allocations won’t secure our vision for a restored River of Grass unless they’re coupled with robust pollution regulations, sound growth-management laws, and adequate public lands for cleaning farm runoff. As a Friend of the Everglades, that’s the future you’re helping us push for. If you’ve contributed to our efforts lately, thank you. If it’s been a while, we invite you to donate today.