Florida’s new budget sets aside $2 billion for Everglades, beach restoration, land conservation and water improvement. Florida is an amazing place to be. The state of our environment is critical to so many industries. From tourism to agriculture, quality of life in the sunshine state remains a priority, and the new budget shows that Tallahassee sees the connection.
With over 1000 people moving into the state every day, you have to wonder how we can sustain such growth. Only by preserving and improving, only by better managing resources can we hope to cope, and that means greening our mindset as we look at development.
Many think “green” is a dirty word. Developers cringe at the thought and believe they have to make concessions to “environmentalists” that raise their costs and minimize their profits. That simply, is no longer the case. Green means conserving energy, conserving water, using friendlier materials… and that all translates into cost savings for the consumer. But I digress. Back to the state budget.
Governor Jeb Bush signed a ‘green’ budget for Florida, providing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with more than $2 billion to fight pollution, improve water quality and supply and strengthen protection for Florida’s natural resources. Appropriations include more than $400 million to continue restoring America’s Everglades and acquiring environmentally-sensitive land, $73 million to restore Florida’s hurricane-ravaged beaches, and more than $294 million to improve the health of rivers, lakes, estuaries and springs.
“Florida’s Governor is again expanding protection for the state’s unique and diverse environment,” said DEP Secretary Colleen M. Castille. “With additional funding, Florida is protecting and preserving our quality of life, increasing economic and conservation opportunities and improving the quality and flow of the state’s precious water resources.”
Restoring America’s Everglades, $100 million – Through a dedicated infusion of funding, Governor Bush is leading the $8 billion restoration of the famed River of Grass. Florida has already invested $1 billion to restore wildlife habitat and a natural flow of water to the 2.4 million-acre marsh. Including cash and bonds, Florida’s total financial commitment now tops $3.5 billion through the end of the decade. The State has acquired more than 209,600 acres of the land needed to complete the massive restoration and is accelerating eight critical projects to realize environmental and water supply benefits earlier than originally anticipated.
Conserving Florida’s Land, $300 million – This year’s budget sets aside $300 million to acquire environmentally-sensitive land, restore water resources and preserve important cultural and historical places through Florida Forever – the largest land conservation program in the nation. Over the last six years, the State has placed more than 1.1 million acres of land in public ownership under Florida Forever and its predecessor, P2000.
Restoring Florida’s Beaches, $73.3 million – Following the devastation of the 2004 hurricanes, Governor Bush is redoubling Florida’s commitment to its world-renowned beaches, providing a massive $73.3 million to restore storm-damaged and other shorelines over the next year. The proposal builds upon the $68 million appropriation from the 2004 Legislative Special Session, which set aside supplemental emergency funding to rebuild dunes and repair miles of sandy beaches ravaged by the forces of four hurricanes.
Protecting Florida’s Water Resources, $287 million– Over the last six years, Florida has invested more than $1.8 billion to clean up pollution, upgrade drinking water facilities and improve wastewater and stormwater treatment, funding more than 800 projects statewide. This year’s appropriation includes $7 million to improve wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys and protect the nation’s only barrier coral reef.
Protecting Florida’s Rivers, Lakes and Springs, $7.5 million – With a $5 million commitment, Florida is accelerating the restoration of lakes and rivers through surface water improvement and the Total Maximum Daily Load program, which uses sound science to identify and clean up degraded waters.
For a fifth consecutive year, the Governor’s Springs Initiative received $2.5 million to further protect Florida’s ‘bowls of liquid light.’ With more than 700 dotted across the state, Florida is home to the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world. Springs provide a window into the quality and flow of Florida’s underlying aquifers – the source of 92 percent of our drinking water.
Safeguarding Florida’s Oceans, $1 million – Recognizing the need to enhance science-based ocean management, Governor Bush is advancing state-of-the-art coastal observation technologies, expanding recreation and ocean education, conducting marine resource assessments and increasing protection for seagrass beds, fisheries and coral reefs.
Drawing millions of visitors each year, Florida’s clear waters, world-class beaches and coral reefs support a $53 billion tourism industry, a $14 billion marine industry and a fishing industry that injects more than $8.5 billion a year into Florida’s communities.
Expanding Recreation and Tourism, $1 million – To strengthen rural economies this year’s budget provides $1 million to build and expand a network of trails and campgrounds along the Suwannee River. Through a public-private partnership, the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is providing new recreational adventures and economic opportunity for communities along the 207-mile historic waterway.
We’ve been flooded with incredible news coming out of Tallahassee and I for one am encouraged by the progress we are making. With tax windfalls, we here have an opportunity to plan for the future. Not only do we need to protect the resources we do have, we need to think about where and how we grow.