As every Floridian knows, tourism is critical to our state’s booming economy. This $111.7 billion industry represents 1.4 million employees, and one out of every four people in the Sunshine State work in hospitality. With more than 850 miles of beautiful coastline, seemingly endless options for entertainment and warm sunshine, it’s no wonder that millions of people come to Florida every year. Our state’s largest industry is in danger as a result of the algal blooms caused when the federal government releases water from Lake Okeechobee into our rivers and estuaries. Governor Scott has taken incredible steps in securing billions of dollars in state funding for repairs to the Herbert Hoover dike and for Everglades restoration projects. The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has worked tirelessly to expedite the EAA reservoir project, which is imperative for reducing the discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Further, the SFWMD continues to study the situation and determine what other actions can be taken. But the bottom line is that Governor Scott, the SFWMD and Floridians cannot stop the algal blooms or minimize the damage to our environment and economy on our own. The federal government must take immediate and decisive action to help Florida.
The federal government should immediately fully fund their half of the state-federal partnership for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. To date, the state has contributed more than $2.3 billion, but the federal government has contributed only $1.3 billion. Their failure to follow through on their commitment delays critical projects that will clean, store and move water south and thereby eliminate the need for the Lake Okeechobee releases.
Congress should quickly approve the EAA Reservoir Project. The SFWMD accelerated the planning and design for this project, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the plan last month. However, the plan is still sitting in Congress, waiting on approval. Without Congressional approval, this key project is on hold, and the Lake Okeechobee discharges continue.
Finally, the Army Corps of Engineers should evaluate their plan for Lake Okeechobee. We are in the middle of the wet season. Funding for the Herbert Hoover dike rehabilitation is secured thanks to Governor Scott. And yet, the Army Corps of Engineers has not updated the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule for a decade.
Florida’s leaders are doing all that they can to protect our environment, our people, our wildlife and our economy. We all understand that a long-term, lasting solution requires everyone working together, and we are doing all we can. We need our partners at the federal level to do the same.