Florida recently reached another tourism record in 2017, welcoming the highest number of guests in any year in the state’s history, at 116.5 million visitors. This was an increase of nearly 4 percent over the number of visitors in 2016. Many of these visitors have toured he Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
In fact, each year more than a million people visit the Everglades, but unfortunately, many people living outside of Florida do not realize the perils that the Everglades face. Over the last few years, Florida has seen toxic algae and sludge up and down the Sunshine State’s coastline. In 2016, the governor declared a state of emergency across four different counties. Imagine traveling to Florida on a family vacation only to stroll upon green beaches, dead fish and sick manatees. These toxic algae do not originate in the ocean, but come from Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest freshwater lake, and surrounding land.
The Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed have a far-ranging impact on the entire state of Florida and
the country. There is a $2 trillion economic impact spread across 164 cities and 16 counties in Southwest and Southeast Florida, and more than 55 percent of the real estate value in the entire state is directly affected. In addition to attracting millions of tourists, Everglades National Park directly supports more than 1,500
jobs in South Florida.
Every dollar invested in our national parks produces $10 in tourism-generated revenue for local communities. The National Park Service has demonstrated a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of about $30 billion from visits to the parks. This type of impact is important for the South Florida economy and the entire nation. Last year, I took United States House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert on helicopter tours of the Everglades. These visits highlighted the
importance of Everglades restoration projects and their effects on South Florida and the nation.
This spring, I guided Congressman Mike Simpson, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Army Corps of Engineers, and former Speaker John Boehner, on a similar tour. These visits are important to raise awareness and support among lawmakers in Washington; our fight to restore the Everglades is far from over.
While the federal and state governments have made some impressive strides on Everglades restoration projects, there is still much work ahead. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was enacted in 2000, and calls for construction of a series of 68 projects. These projects will accomplish the water storage, treatment and conveyance necessary to prevent harmful discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, and will
make sure that clean water flows in to the Everglades.
Another benefit of these projects is balancing fresh and salt water flows from the wet to dry seasons. Florida has done its part in funding the CERP and now the federal government needs to step up. In what was designed to be 50/50 cost-sharing between the state and federal government, Florida has put forward $1.4 billion while the federal government has only funded $737 million.
We still have many priorities that need to be completed, from the Picayune Strand and Kissimmee River
Restoration to repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike. Most important, we must expeditiously approve the Post-Authorization Change Report (PACR) to begin planning execution of the Central Everglades Planning Project
(CEPP), to increase storage and water treatment capacity. The assistant secretary of the Army must submit the PACR to Congress as soon as possible to avoid drastically setting back the timeline for completing the restoration.
As Americans, we all have a shared interest in protecting the Everglades.
Everyone reading this article can make a difference by spreading awareness about the far-ranging impacts to the environment and the economy, both in Florida and the entire nation. Speak up, write an op-ed in your local papers, talk with your local city council, or tell your Senator or Congressman about the Everglades. No action is too small in the fight to restore and protect this national treasure of Florida and the United States.
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th congressional district
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