By Eric Eikenberg – CEO, The Everglades Foundation

Visitors to Southwest Florida expect pristine blue waters, superb fishing – and, in America’s Everglades, a magical place filled with colorful birds, native wildlife and exotic plant species.

Lately, though, they have been confronted with a less appealing kaleidoscope of color. Instead of the cobalt blue waters we expect here on the Gulf Coast, they too often see red tide and blue-green algae. Both forms of algae can be toxic and each has forced States of Emergency that have closed beaches and restricted fishing in three of the last six summers (not that anyone would venture onto beaches littered with tons of rotting fish).

Meanwhile, America’s Everglades is on life support: its original footprint is just a fraction of what it once was, with animal habitat disappearing every year to development. More than two-thirds of the fresh water that once flowed south into Florida Bay is now being flushed east and west in the name of flood protection.

The economic consequences have been devastating. Florida owes much of its economy to tourism and hospitality and we are among the world’s most vibrant markets for the manufacture and sale of outdoor recreational equipment, from boats to fishing hooks.

But the problem goes much further than simple economic loss. The Everglades purifies and stores the water supply for8 million people in South Florida and provides a buffer that reduces the impact of storms coming ashore from the Gulf.

Yet for a century, man has “drained the swamp, “staunching the natural southward flow of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee and polluting what remains with algae-causing phosphorus from animal waste, fertilizers and raw sewage.

Scientists and policymakers agree on the solution: a massive and complex blueprint for 68 separate public works projects, all designed to store, purify and restore the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee. Known as the “Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan,” it was an unprecedented joint effort by the Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District and 30 different agencies at the federal, state and local levels that was signed into law nearly 20 years ago.

Only now, however, are its first components about to be completed – and then only if both Congress and the Florida Legislature muster the political will to make a sustained financial commitment toward their completion.

Next Month: “Saving Paradise” : How People Are Forcing Policymakers to Do The Right Thing – and What YOU Can Do To Help Eric Eikenberg is CEO of The Everglades Foundation, the leading science-based organization working to restore America’s Everglades.

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