BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — Florida took another big step forward as leaders work to restore the Everglades and protect the state's water quality and environment.
At a news conference Tuesday morning in Bonita Springs, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that includes a proposed $3.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration and protection of Florida water resources.
The governor's office called it "the highest level of funding in Florida's history."
"Four years ago, I promised to pursue a bold agenda and to commit to lead Florida into a new era of stewardship for Florida's natural resources, and we delivered," DeSantis said. "Today, I am proud to announce the next step in this administration’s continued dedication to Florida's treasured environment. This order directs funding and strategic action that will continue our momentum and enhance our ongoing efforts to expedite critical Everglades restoration projects, employ sound science to protect and restore our waterways, and fund infrastructure projects to improve water quality and safeguard Florida's water supply."
Today, I signed an executive order to build on our historic conservation efforts by:— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) January 10, 2023
- Securing $3.5 billion for Everglades and water resources
- Restoring the Indian River Lagoon
- Strengthening coastal resiliency
- Conserving land for future generations pic.twitter.com/O7WFH8UWK6
The executive order also prioritizes projects to restore the Indian River Lagoon, including establishing a protection program and securing at least $100 million each year for projects.
Other measures to protect the lagoon include taking action to reduce nutrients that flow into the waterway, which can aid in the growth of toxic algae.
Tuesday's move was applauded by multiple environmental groups in the state.
"Under Governor DeSantis' leadership and with the support of the Florida Legislature, the state has taken unprecedented steps to effectively address our most pressing environmental issues," Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton said. "With this renewed support and direction, Florida's environment will remain a priority and we will continue to have the resources to bolster our long-term environmental programs and meet the needs of our diverse state."
South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss said the executive order ramps up their efforts to accomplish more to protect and restore Florida’s environment.
"In Governor DeSantis' first term, we broke ground on, hit a major milestone and completed more than 50 Everglades restoration projects," Goss said.
Eric Eikenberg, the CEO of The Everglades Foundation, was among those who lent support to the executive order.
"The Governor's bold agenda will undoubtedly lead to more progress in Everglades restoration and in addressing Florida's water quality challenges," Eikenberg said. "The restoration of America's Everglades is paramount to Florida's clean water-based economy and the Governor has made a concerted effort to ensure Florida significantly invests in its future."
The Everglades Trust called the move by the governor "unquestionably historic."
"Time and time again, Governor DeSantis makes promises, and he delivers on those promises. If his first term is any indication of what he can accomplish, Floridians and the great state of Florida will see a historic commitment become a reality," Everglades Trust CEO Anna Upton said.
There is no doubt @GovRonDeSantis' commitment to the #Everglades in his first term was monumental, but the commitment he has made to the Everglades & the environment in the newly signed executive order promising $3.5B over the next 4 years is unquestionably historic. pic.twitter.com/e8Qj1ee7Qu— Everglades Trust (@evtrust) January 10, 2023
Key provisions of the executive order included directing the Department of Environmental Protection to:
- Secure historic $3.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and protection of our water resources, including water quality and water supply
- Prioritize the protection of the Indian River Lagoon and secure at least $100 million annually for priority projects to improve water quality in the IRL
- Expand the existing Wastewater Grant Program by broadening project eligibility to address impacts on water quality from nonpoint sources such as stormwater and agricultural runoff
- Ensure that all wastewater facilities discharging to waterbodies within a basin management action plan (BMAP) area or waterbody not attaining water quality standards upgrade to advanced wastewater treatment by 2033
- Coordinate with the Department of Economic Opportunity to improve local government's long-term comprehensive planning to encourage successful and sustainable growth while protecting natural resources
- Strengthen BMAPs, which provide a roadmap to restoring water quality and reducing pollutants, to include the specific projects necessary to meet the required water quality standards to achieve restoration goals
- Ensure continued funding for statewide resilience projects through the Resilient Florida Program
- Take all necessary steps to expedite the state’s land conservation efforts, including a strategic focus on acquisitions within the Wildlife Corridor
The order also directs the South Florida Water Management District to:
- Continue to expedite Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program projects
- Make every effort to ensure meaningful progress on Everglades restoration projects undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project
- Work with the Corps to ensure the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) is implemented in a manner that reduces discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and sends more water south to benefit the environment and meet the needs of our communities
Other key provisions include:
- Continuation of efforts by the Blue-Green Algae Task and Harmful Algal Bloom Task Forces
- Continuation of the red tide emergency grant program and creation of a similar blue-green algae grant program to support state and local government response efforts
Lawmakers will likely consider the funding request during their upcoming legislative session in March. The GOP majority in the Florida Legislature has largely supported the governor's agenda in the past.