Everglades

Kayakers paddle through mangrove tunnels in Everglades National park.

The $1.4 trillion federal spending package signed by President Donald Trump last week included a $200 million surprise in the back of the proverbial Christmas tree for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration project.

The president’s requested allocation is $130 million more in federal funding than Everglades’ restoration received this year and would be only the second time in 20 years the federal government has anted up its full annual commitment for the project.

Securing the Everglades’ full federal fiscal 2021 allocation is a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state’s Congressional delegation and state lawmakers, who praised Trump’s decision to raise his final budget request to $200 million from the $63 million he first sought.

The boost in federal match funds dovetails with DeSantis’ four-year, $2.5 billion state-funded Everglades restoration plan.

DeSantis requested $625 million for the first year of his plan – including $322 million for restoration projects – in his fiscal 2020 budget request. State lawmakers approved $682 million.

The governor has again asked for $625 million in his fiscal 2021 Everglades and water quality budget request – again, seeking $322 million for restoration projects – as year two of his plan.

Ramping up state and federal spending will accelerate the 10,100-acre, $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project approved in the federal America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 by three years, to be completed in seven years, state officials say.

“President Trump has followed through on his promise to deliver for Florida and America’s Everglades,” DeSantis said in a statement. “This investment in Everglades restoration will build on our efforts at the state level for critical projects like the EAA Reservoir, the Caloosahatchee Reservoir and the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area.”

The faster the Everglades’ money comes from Washington, the sooner work on the 240,000-acre-feet EEA reservoir in southwest Palm Beach County can begin, state officials said.

The reservoir will help reduce discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries that spawn blue-green algae blooms and will send more water south, according to the South Florida Water Management District (SoftMud), the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and Gov. DeSantis,” DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said, “this federal appropriation coupled with unprecedented state funding will allow us to expedite Everglades restoration, improve water quality and reduce harmful discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.”

DeSantis and Florida’s Congressional delegation may have persuaded Trump of the value in expediting Everglades restoration with a full federal match allocation during the President’s March visit to Lake Okeechobee’s Canal Point.

When Congress originally approved the massive Everglades restoration plan in 2000, it was expected to take up to 40 years and cost nearly $8 billion.

In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences warned it would take up to 65 years and cost at least $16 billion to achieve the restoration goals outlined in the “2000 plan.”

If the annual amount of federal-state funding under the “2000 plan” were increased to $312 million, the Academies said the timeline could be cut to about 30 years, or 2048.

Federal funding for Everglades restoration had dropped to $44 million by 2014. Between 2015 and 2018, it averaged about $77 million. Another $121 million was spent on other Everglades work, including fixing Lake Okeechobee’s aging, earthen dike.

Since 2015, state spending on Everglades restoration projects averaged $153 million for the “2000 plan” and $581 million for other water quality efforts.