Gov. Rick Scott turned a difficult morning Cabinet meeting in Tampa into a day of triumph later in West Palm Beach, proposing a dedicated source of revenue that will provide more than $5 billion for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years.
It is part of Scott's 2015-2016 "Keep Florida Working" budget. But the proposal remains only that -- a proposal -- and still must survive legislative scrutiny.
If passed by the Legislature, $150 million will go toward Everglades restoration this year. On top of that, Scott included an allocation of $150 million toward land acquisition and management to go directly for land to protect the Florida panther.
Said Scott, Florida has an abundance of natural resources that help create a foundation for our growing economy, whether it is driving our states tourism industry or providing a great quality of life that has attracted families to our state for generations. During my first term, we made historic investments in our springs and Everglades and I am proud to continue to make important investments in our environment this year. We will keep working to make sure we preserve our natural treasures so Florida can continue to be a top destination for families, visitors and businesses.
As part of the $5 billion investment, the governor said he is committed to fully funding the states share of the restoration of the Kissimmee River and the construction of the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs over the next four years.
Collectively, these projects will provide more than 100 billion gallons of storage to protect estuaries from discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee. The dedicated source of funding for Everglades restoration will also allow for the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to identify and fund additional storage projects in the future -- and provide the certainty that a restored Everglades will become a reality.
The Everglades Foundation, in a statement attributed to CEO Eric Eikenberg, praised Scott's continued commitment to Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee.
We continue to applaud and thank the governor for his commitment to Americas Everglades and finding water storage solutions," said Eikenberg in the statement. "Todays event reinforces the need and support for water storage solutions, Everglades restoration, and the funding needed to fulfill existing projects that are slated to be built and completed.
Right now, the state of Florida has a storage option available -- a 26,100-acre area just south of Lake Okeechobee -- that can make a difference. Buying this strategic parcel would provide water managers with a new option to store, move and clean water south of Lake Okeechobee before it reaches the Everglades. This badly-needed reservoir project is vital in protecting our local economies and ecosystem, and in the ultimate goal of protecting the drinking water for nearly 8 million Floridians and millions of tourists.
The governor will release his full budget recommendations before the end of the week.