In the early 20th century, dreamers and developers set out on a mission to “reclaim the vast, useless swamp” in the name of progress. As they drained, diked, and redirected water, they never could have predicted the vast implications of their actions. Or that their idea of progress was inherently forging a mess that would burden their ancestors for generations to come.
In 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the first to bring national awareness to the degradation of America’s Everglades with her book, The Everglades: River of Grass. Douglas dedicated her life to preserving and restoring the Everglades, ultimately awakening the restoration movement that we’re still working toward nearly a century later.
Endangered wildlife populations, declining water quality, water mismanagement, extensive urban and agricultural development—with every new threat or challenge to the Everglades ecosystem, there has come an unwavering group fighting to restore and protect it. Many have taken up the battle before us and have moved restoration forward. Now, it’s our turn.
2019 brings more progress, faster than ever
Today, progress toward Everglades restoration is happening at a faster pace than ever before. Unfortunately, we’re also experiencing ecological devastation faster and more frequently than ever.
Lost summers, toxic algae, brown waters that were once crystal-blue, dead marine life, and a devastated economy, have shaken the entire state into a clean water movement at an unprecedented level. More people than ever before are standing together to demand change and hold elected officials accountable, piercing the veil of power once controlled solely by special interests and crooked politics.
What you need to know now
- Record funding for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources
Governor DeSantis pushed for the largest amount of funding for Everglades restoration in the history of our state—and he got it. The Governor just signed the FY 2019-20 budget with more than $400 million for Everglades restoration, $100 million for springs restoration, $50 million for targeted water quality improvements, $40 million for the Florida Department of Transportation to expedite completion of the Tamiami Trail project and restore the flow of clean water south, $40 million for alternative water supply, and $25 million to combat blue-green algae and red tide.
- Blue-Green Algae Task Force is up and running
In addition to a “plumbing problem,” our state faces a significant pollution problem; one that breeds toxic blue-green algal blooms, presenting new threats to public health. This new task force will help expedite water quality improvements by identifying, reviewing, and recommending projects that will provide the largest nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and related estuaries. Their second meeting will be held in Fort Myers on July 1st and is open to the public. Visit the DEP website to view the task force meeting schedule, provide comments, or subscribe for task force updates.
- The Corps attempts to mitigate wet-season Lake Okeechobee discharges
Starting June 1st, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began slightly lowering the lake levels by releasing an average of 450 cubic feet per second of water into the Caloosahatchee. The intent was to release a little during the dry season, so they wouldn’t need to release as much in the wet season, sparing our coastal estuaries of the adverse impacts. To monitor daily water levels and flows, visit the USACE Water Management Status page. You can also keep an eye on algal blooms by visiting the DEP’s Algal Bloom Sampling Status page.
- The PROTECT Florida Act: new legislation filed to prioritize public health as #1 priority for Lake Okeechobee management
Congressman Brian Mast filed the PROTECT Florida Act which would amend the Army Corps’ operational priorities to prioritize public health (which is currently not an established criteria) and protect Florida’s citizens from the serious health threat of toxic algal blooms. Read the bill or sign up for updates here.
- Advancing key priority projects to accelerate Everglades restoration
Governor DeSantis signed an executive order that identified 29 priority projects that must be accelerated in order to improve water quality, water quantity, and water supply. The South Florida Water Management District has launched a new webpage where you can monitor the status of these projects which are slated for completion over the next 1 to 5 years.
While there is not a single solution that will address every problem right away, we are heading in the right direction because of more and more people getting involved and speaking up. A century of ecological degradation cannot be reversed overnight, but as long as we can keep forward momentum, things will improve, even if slowly.
Shannon Estenoz, COO of the Everglades Foundation, described this new era of progress by saying, “A new generation of Everglades voices emerged and responded in ways that we’ve not seen in decades. They are creating a 21st century Everglades movement that is less patient, more demanding, less bureaucratic, more democratic. They are authentic, unintimidated by power, savvy, inclusive, lightning fast, and willing to take to the streets.”
Coming from someone whose Everglades career spans decades, these words are not to be taken lightly.