Everglades Rescue "Out on a Limb" Without Federal Aid

July 3, 2008

Florida's proposal to buy farmland to help restore clean water to the Everglades could be seriously hampered unless the U.S. Congress follows through on a commitment it made almost 20 years ago, some environmentalists say.

In 1989 Congress approved a plan for a series of major projects for Everglades restoration to be funded by Florida and the federal government. But so far the government hasn't come through.

Meanwhile the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) announced last week that it is willing to buy nearly 187,000 acres (75,700 hectares) from the United States Sugar Corporation—which bills itself as the nation's largest sugar cane producer—and restore the land.

The deal would be worth 1.75 billion U.S. dollars.

Until about a hundred years ago, that land was part of a natural filtration system that cleaned water before it flowed into the Everglades and then into Florida Bay.

The company's decision to sell its farmland and eventually go out of business was "historic and breathtaking," Florida Governor Charlie Crist told National Geographic News.

"It has the potential to restore the flow of the Everglades to the way God intended."

Although most experts were thrilled with the proposal, some fear that rehabilitation will be too much for the state agency to handle alone.

"The state is moving forward with its responsibilities without the federal government participating fully," said Tom Van Lent, a senior scientist at the Everglades Foundation in South Miami, Florida.

"They're going out on a limb here, no doubt about that."

Restoring the Flow

The Florida Everglades National Park covers about 1.5 million acres (611,000 hectares) at the tip of the Florida Peninsula. The adjoining Big Cypress National Preserve includes about 720,000 acres (291,000 hectares).

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