Group: Feds lag in Everglades fix

This panoramic view of the Everglades shows photographer Clyde Butcher and his longtime friend Marshall Wright photographing a cypress tree in the Big Cypress National Preserve in August 2000.

ARMANDO SOLARES/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:30 p.m.

ORLANDO — While the state has made progress toward restoring the Everglades, much of the vast wetlands remain in distress because the federal government has failed to provide promised funds and water managers are not moving quickly enough, a coalition of environmental groups said.

Congress became a 50-50 partner with the state on its 30-year, $10.5 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, in 2000, but critics say federal lawmakers have not been chipping in.

"The state has been the only partner moving forward with any degree of progress … but it hasn't been nearly enough progress to be adequate," said Brad Sewell of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Everglades Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups, is hosting its annual conference this weekend to discuss progress being made toward restoring the once famed "River of Grass" to a more natural state.

The group applauded efforts by the South Florida Water Management District for pushing ahead aggressively with restoration efforts, but also criticized the state agency for not moving more quickly.

Carol Wehle, the district's executive director, said Florida was doing all that it could given the technologies and funds available.

"Absolutely there is much left to do. Nobody is claiming victory today, but the amount that we have been able to accomplish in six short years should be a model for other agencies who wish to engage in restoration activities," Wehle said.

She agreed that the federal government's lack of funding has slowed critical restoration projects.

Under the 2000 agreement, the federal government was supposed to provide $200 million a year for Everglades restoration, but to date, Congress has appropriated a total of less than $300 million, Wehle said. In contrast, the state has budgeted $2.1 billion with another $1.2 billion to be committed within the next six months, according to the district.

"In two short years, the South Florida Water Management District has designed, permitted and begun construction on seven restoration projects. That is unheard of anywhere in the world," Wehle said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a statement Friday that he believes the new Democrat-controlled Congress will free up the much-needed funds to move Everglades restoration forward.

"We can't wait any longer," Nelson said in the statement, part of his prepared remarks for his speech to the group planned today. "Each day we delay, the nation loses more of a great natural wonder."

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