Everglades plan draws praise

Published May 9, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Environmentalists are hailing a bill to expand Everglades cleanup by extending the effort to the northern reaches of the ecosystem, where the water gets polluted in the first place.

A bill lawmakers sent last week to Gov. Charlie Crist doubles the amount of money going into Everglades cleanup, up to $200-million from the $100-million the program has received yearly since state and federal officials pledged in 2000 to try to reverse decades of pollution-caused problems.

With matching money from local governments and state funding for related projects, the total spending will be close to $500-million, said Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, who led the effort in the Senate.

The measure includes new restrictions on stormwater runoff from developments, and on the dumping of sewage sludge into the Lake Okeechobee watershed, which environmentalists say is a major victory.

The legislation (SB 392) expands the notion of cleaning up the Everglades to restoration of Lake Okeechobee and the rivers that flow south into the lake - the water that eventually ends up in the Everglades.

"The water pollution problems actually start in the suburbs of Orlando, " said Eric Draper, a lobbyist with Audubon of Florida, which worked on the legislation.

Mary Ann Gosa, a lobbyist for the Florida Farm Bureau, said the effort was more comprehensive, rather than the piecemeal approach that officials have had in the past.