Raising the Profile of the Everglades in Congress
While we Floridians know the importance of the Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee watershed to Florida’s economy, folks in Washington often fail to realize the economic impact of the river of grass. This is why I have been bringing my colleagues in Congress to Southwest Florida so they can see firsthand the magnitude and importance of the watershed, and tangibly appreciate the challenges the ecosystem faces due to years of pollution, flood control, and population growth.
The Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed have a far-ranging impact on the entire state of Florida and the country. There is a $2 trillion economic impact across the 164 cities and 16 counties in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed area in Southwest and Southeast Florida, and more than 55% of the real estate value in the entire state is directly affected.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was enacted in 2000, calling for construction of a series of 68 projects. These projects, working together, will accomplish the water storage, treatment and conveyance which is necessary to prevent harmful discharges into the Caloosahatchee River and will make sure that clean water keeps the Everglades adequately flooded. Florida has done its part in funding CERP. Designed to be 50/50 cost-sharing between the state and federal government, Florida is nearly a billion dollars ahead of Washington in funding these projects. It is beyond time for the federal government to pay for its share of these projects.
Last year, with the help of the South Florida Water Management District, I took Kevin McCarthy, Republican Majority Leader, and Ken Calvert, Chairman of Appropriations for the Interior Department, on tours of the Everglades and the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD).
This week, I will take Mike Simpson, Chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Corps of Engineers, and former Speaker of the House John Boehner on a similar tour. Congressman Simpson and Speaker Boehner will personally see the important CERP and dike projects, and better understand the importance of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Watershed for Florida. These visits are important in gathering more support in Washington. In 2017 we made significant strides. We received the highest level of federal funding ever awarded for HHD repairs and, as a result, the project should be completed ahead of schedule. Additionally, the full funding was awarded for the CERP projects.
While these developments are important steps, the fight for our Everglades is far from finished. I will continue advocating for speeding up completion of CERP and repairs to the HHD. Congressman Simpson and Speaker Boehner’s tour is important toward achieving this goal, and am thankful for their interest in the watershed.
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida's 19th congressional district. He is the Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.