What do a Democratic chairwoman, a Tea Party Republican, a Bush, and a Clinton all agree on? Helping this national park.
What is it about the Everglades that brings people together who can’t otherwise seem to agree on anything?
For example, you might not expect Democratic National Committee Chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to have much in common with Tea Party-backed Republican Congressman Curt Clawson. They have different views on immigration, health care, and what a responsible federal budget looks like. Yet they both spoke at the most recent Everglades Coalition Conference and both support Everglades restoration. Clawson even shared movingly in his State of the Union response that he originally got into politics in part to help preserve the Everglades, calling it “a real national treasure we must protect.”
Maybe it’s not such a surprise, then, that in a political climate where members of Congress engage in tense debates and crippling stand-offs over seemingly every dollar, funding for Everglades restoration projects have won wholehearted bipartisan support.
In February, President Obama released a Fiscal Year 2016 budget that would provide $240 million for Everglades restoration, an amount that’s significantly higher than it was a year ago. This money would fund on-the-ground restoration projects led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an important federal partner that accomplishes much of the planning, design, construction, and management of the restoration work. The money would also fund Department of the Interior initiatives, such as combating invasive species like the infamous Burmese python.
We are optimistic that these projects will receive the requested funding in the coming year, despite other measures proposed in the president’s budget that will likely fail due to partisan wrangling. Here’s a look at some of the projects that this money would advance on the ground.
- C-111 South Dade: The C-111 South Dade project will provide a series of detention basins that hold water in places that need it, like Everglades National Park, instead of releasing it to places that don’t need it, like the agricultural and urban areas of Miami-Dade County. Ultimately it will allow more freshwater to flow south through Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
- Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands: This project will rehydrate freshwater wetlands in Biscayne National Park by returning more freshwater to Biscayne Bay in a more natural pattern via a spreader canal system.
- Kissimmee River Restoration: A major restoration project that is very near completion, this project will restore more than 40 square miles of river-floodplain ecosystem, including almost 20,000 acres of wetlands and 44 miles of historic river channel.
- Picayune Strand Restoration: This project will restore wetlands in an 85-square-mile area that was originally slated for residential development located on the edge of Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve by removing canals and roads. Doing so will also restore important habitat for the endangered Florida panther.
- C-43 and C-44 Reservoirs: Building these two reservoirs and water treatment marshes will directly improve the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, respectively, by capturing and storing water from Lake Okeechobee and allowing harmful nutrients to filter out before being sent to the estuaries.
NPCA is now working with Congress to pass these budgetary measures so we can continue to build on the recent political momentum supporting the Everglades. Fortunately, this bipartisanship is nothing new. Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican Governor Jeb Bush came together back in 2000 to sign the landmark legislation that made many of these projects possible in the first place, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
That’s right: Even a Clinton and a Bush joined forces to celebrate—and fund—this unique and spectacular subtropical wetland.
It’s an investment that pays off. An economic study by Mather Economics found that for every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, more than four dollars are returned to the economy. Everglades restoration work also employs thousands of workers, while supporting a robust tourism economy. According to the National Park Service, in 2013 alone, Everglades and Biscayne National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve created more than 2,670 jobs and generated approximately $202 million in visitor spending. Sustained funding for these restoration projects is critical for the ecosystem, economy, and water supply for nearly 8 million Americans.
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So, what is it that brings people together to protect the Everglades? Perhaps, like many of America’s Great Waters, it captures our imagination or connects us to fond memories. Maybe it provides a loved one’s drinking water or employs a friend. In these ways, and many more, protecting the Everglades continues to be a bipartisan success story in these often politically divided times. And that should give us all hope for the future.
About the author
Sarah Gaines Barmeyer Senior Managing Director of Conservation Programs
Sarah Barmeyer is senior managing director for NPCA’s Conservation Programs where she coordinates priority initiatives for water restoration, landscape conservation, wildlife, and clean air.