The Everglades cleanup plan that state and federal officials agreed to this week is far from perfect: It continues the foot-dragging that has gone on for decades, and it is pinned on the hope of appropriations from the very state Republican lawmakers who have starved environmental funding. But Gov. Rick Scott has signed onto the deal, and now he has the responsibility to carry it out without short-changing South Florida's larger water and environmental needs.
The agreement would resolve a nearly quarter-century legal battle over how to stop the flow of phosphorus from farms and the South Florida suburbs into the Everglades basin. The state would build 7,300 acres of new stormwater treatment areas (in addition to the 60,000 acres already in place or under construction) and create new water storage basins to filter the plant-choking runoff as it flows south. The goal is to restore the native ecosystem that supports plant and animal life, the drinking water supply and the fisheries so vital to South Florida and to the economy of the state.
The cleanup would be in place by 2025, three years later than an earlier target, and a decade later than the original deadline. The delay compounds the damage the pollution is already causing, and it creates new opportunities for the state to wiggle out of its commitments. The deal, though, includes several mechanisms to keep the project on track. State and federal officials will meet regularly to oversee the status of the cleanup; a team of scientists will monitor pollution levels; and the state would adhere to a strict build-out schedule. Both sides would work to finish the cleanup early, and if the state stalls again, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reserves the right to take "direct enforcement action" through the courts under the Clean Water Act.
Despite the delays, the deal achieves the primary goal of reducing the phosphorus loads entering the Everglades. It moves the state's focus and resources away from waging a battle in the courts and toward cleaning up the pollution. And Scott assumes responsibility for laying the groundwork for the biggest environmental project he has ever undertaken.
The governor and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature boxed themselves in by starving the state's regional water management agencies of revenue, authority and staff expertise. If this deal forces them to roll back that political giveaway to developers and polluters, so much the better.