Environmentalists are hailing a new bill to expand Everglades cleanup by extending the effort to the northern reaches of the ecosystem. The measure also includes new restrictions on polluted stormwater runoff from new developments, and on the dumping of sewage sludge into the Lake Okeechobee watershed, which environmentalists say is a major victory.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Environmentalists are hailing a new bill to expand Everglades cleanup by extending the effort to the northern reaches of the ecosystem.
A bill lawmakers sent last week to Gov. Charlie Crist doubles the amount of money going into Everglades cleanup, up to $200 million from the $100 million the program has received yearly since state and federal officials pledged in 2000 to try to reverse decades of pollution-caused problems in the River of Grass.
With matching money from local governments and state funding for other related projects, the total spending will be close to $500 million, said state Sen. Burt Saunders, who led the effort in the Senate.
The measure also includes new restrictions on polluted stormwater runoff from new developments, and on the dumping of sewage sludge into the Lake Okeechobee watershed, which environmentalists say is a major victory.
The legislation expands the notion of cleaning up the Everglades to restoration of Lake Okeechobee and the rivers that flow south into the lake -- the water that eventually ends up in the Everglades. It sets out a plan for acquiring land and creating water treatment mechanisms north of the lake.
"The water pollution problems actually start in the suburbs of Orlando," said Eric Draper, a lobbyist with Audubon of Florida, which worked on the legislation.
The move to expand the cleanup and curb pollution was rare in its consensus, involving the farm community as well as environmentalists.
Mary Ann Gosa, a lobbyist for the Florida Farm Bureau, said the effort was a more comprehensive approach to cleaning up the ecosystem, rather than the piecemeal approach that officials have had in the past. And it drew accolades from environmentalists like few other legislative initiatives in recent years.
"It's the first major law to combine water pollution and water management solutions, and it puts the (government) on an aggressive timeline," for implementing the new cleanup projects, said Draper.
In addition to Lake Okeechobee, the legislation also calls for the expansion of programs to protect the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie River watersheds. Lawmakers' efforts also drew praise from Crist.
"Let's talk about the environment! $200 million for the Everglades," Crist said this past weekend, calling the bill a "big deal."
Lawmakers also approved spending money for programs to help the St. Johns River in northeast Florida and the Indian River Lagoon.
The biggest items in the Everglades legislation provided for:
-- $49 million for the first phase of a Lake Okeechobee protection program.
-- $30 million for projects to improve the hydrology, water quality, and aquatic habitats of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie watersheds, including Lake Okeechobee watershed improvements, and engineering of a stormwater treatment area.
Source: Associated Press