The halting state-federal effort to restore the Everglades has taken a positive turn. Congress authorized $142 million for the project next year, clearing the way for new construction that will vastly improve water flow into the River of Grass. And Gov. Rick Scott has reversed course and proposed a more serious starting point for state funding next year. This new spending does not entirely make up for recent cuts, especially at the state level. But it strengthens the federal-state partnership at a critical time.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores held a teleconference with reporters Wednesday to hail the bipartisan effort that netted the Everglades significant money for next year. Two-thirds of the federal money will go toward rehabilitating the Everglades itself; another $46 million will be spent cleaning up the Kissimmee River, the upland watershed that flows slowly south toward the Everglades and Florida Bay.
Coming at a time when Congress is looking to make major, long-term cuts to domestic spending, the Everglades appropriations represents a victory for Florida. Even more important, the plan lays the groundwork for major capital projects that would help restore the natural water flow through the Everglades basin. The measure authorizes further construction of bridging along Tamiami Trail. One mile of the surface highway is currently being replaced with an elevated road. By expanding the bridges for another 5.5 miles, authorities will bring more fresh water south, improving water quality and the habitat that both humankind and wildlife depend on.
Glades supporters will still need to secure future funding to actually construct the Tamiami bridge expansion. But this year's congressional authorization gets the ball rolling. And Florida's congressional delegation should find it easier in Washington if Scott maintains his newfound commitment to the restoration plan.
The governor deserves credit for proposing $40 million for the Everglades in next year's budget. That's more than double what he proposed this year. But the amount is still woefully short, especially given how Scott and the Legislature slashed funding for the local water management districts, which finance many water supply and conservation projects. The governor will need to demonstrate that he grasps the importance of a watershed that provides drinking water and jobs to millions of Floridians. If Washington sees that the state is seriously committed to cleaning up the Everglades, it will have more incentive to do its part as well.