‘It’s all about getting that water back to the natural flow’: DeSantis says legislature will prioritize Everglades restoration

Governor signed off on $625 million for restoration, water quality projects in state budget

Gov. DeSantis at the Florida Everglades. (AP Images)

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was in South Florida Tuesday to provide an update on the years-long efforts to restore the Everglades and clean up the state’s dirty waterways.

DeSantis, along with other environmental state leaders, spoke about Florida’s water quality projects near the Miccosukee Indian Village in Miami-Dade County.

The governor highlighted the state’s recent successes with a construction site as his backdrop. Crews were working to remove roadbed from the old Tamiami Trail to help improve water flow.

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“If you look here, this is really an important milestone we’re highlighting,” he said. “What that will do is that’ll improve the volume of water flowing south through the Everglades and support reducing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.”

According to the governor, this would improve water at local estuaries connected to Lake Okeechobee supporting his overall goal to help deliver clean water throughout the state.

“We obviously had a bold vision. We were expecting to do a lot of things, we set the standard very high and we’re meeting it,” the governor said. “Now, you know we have revenues coming in, way beyond measurement or expectation and I think you’re seeing my budget had robust funding for the Everglades and water infrastructure.”

The state has been funding the projects after the Florida legislature dedicated $625 million for restoration and water quality within last year’s state budget.

He also urged the legislature in 2020 to purchase a piece of land to keep it from being used for oil production. This is on top of the $2.5 billion dollars set aside in the governor’s 2019 executive order to protect some of Florida’s unique ecosystems. His executive order, known as Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment, helped establish a task force to reduce the impact of blue-green algae over the next five years.

The governor said Florida’s leadership and coordinated efforts made it easier to ask the federal agencies for assistance to see projects through.

“We also got a lot of support from the federal government. We got $235 million for 2020 and $250 million for 2021 which is obviously a very big help,” he said.

DeSantis said federal funds are mostly used to improve infrastructure to help protect Florida’s vulnerable areas, a focus that was shared with the state’s chief science officer. Gov. DeSantis created the position in 2019 and appointed Dr. Thomas Frazier to the role.

“We’ve incorporated recommendations for the blue-green algae task force and the chief science officer into last year’s water legislation which is really the strongest that Florida has done in a long time and so it’s been good,” the governor said.

As DeSantis touted Florida’s success under Frazier, he announced Florida’s top environmental scientist had accepted a role as dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. Dr. Mark Rains will take Frazier’s place.

“(Rains) comes to us with over 30 years of experience in environmental science and hydrology and he’s going to do a great job for the state of Florida,” the governor said.