The effort to restore the Florida Everglades is closing out the year with a flourish. A federal judge in Miami threw his support this month behind a plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to build a vast new series of marshes to filter polluted runoff before it enters the River of Grass. The move came as the federal government unveiled plans to elevate additional sections of the Tamiami Trail to improve the natural southern flow of water in the Everglades, following a series of land set-asides and purchases that will help the ecosystem recover. Incoming Gov. Rick Scott should continue the support for a state-federal partnership that is worth billions of dollars to Florida.
U.S. District Judge Alan Gold said he would try to move along EPA's plan to build about 42,000 acres of treatment ponds to strip phosphorus from runoff heading into the Everglades. Most of the pollution comes from farming and fertilizer runoff, and removing it requires filter areas as well as tougher restrictions on farming permits. Gold has been right to insist that both EPA and the state act with greater urgency. His ruling dovetails perfectly with broader efforts at the state and national levels to improve water quality in the Everglades, which is essential both for the people of South Florida and for fish and wildlife.
EPA's plan complements the federal government's decision earlier this year to spend nearly $90 million to preserve some 26,000 acres in the northern headwaters of the Everglades. The move will put cleaner water into the basin, which will make ongoing cleanup efforts easier to manage while ending some of the worst agricultural practices threatening the basin. In another important move, the National Park Service announced plans this month for building an additional 5 miles of bridges along Tamiami Trail. That would augment the 1 mile of bridge under construction. The project will go a long way toward restoring the flow of water into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
The recession forced the state to scale back its contribution, but the purchase this year of 26,800 acres of U.S. Sugar property was a vital, timely start in securing land for restoration. Scott needs to keep sending the message that Florida is a committed partner. The state cannot afford to restore the Everglades on its own. Nor can it afford for the Everglades to become more polluted. A new study by a nonprofit advocate, the Everglades Foundation, finds that the $12 billion restoration could generate up to $124 billion in economic benefits and create more than 440,000 jobs over the next 50 years in everything from fishing and real estate to tourism. Federal participation is as vital to restoration as the River of Grass is to Florida. The state must hold up its end and work with Washington to see the project continues.