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What Kind Of Role Will Congress Play This Year In Everglades Restoration Efforts?

Congressional, state, and environmental leaders are hoping to continue trying to make the Everglades a focus this year. From a bipartisan group of lawmakers working together in Congress to federal and state officials exploring ways to continue their efforts through an open forum, restoring Florida’s River of Grass could take center stage this year.

“It’s something that I’m very passionate about and it’s something that’s a priority for most of the folks in my district.”

Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, a new face in Congress, says preserving a historic site like the Everglades is one of his main goals, not only for himself, but also for House District 18, the South Florida area he serves.

So, he’s partnering with another Florida Congressman, Tom Rooney, a Republican, on some legislation that he says would do some needed good in the area. Murphy says what it comes down to is improving the water quality, and one of the ideas they’re talking about is preventing the disrupting flows of dirty water.

“There’s these discharges that leave Lake Okeechobee when the lake fills up to a certain level. And, because of a failing dike, that’s at risk for nearly bursting at the seams, they have to discharge the water and they do it out of the east and the west. And, when it comes out of the St. Lucie River. It really causes a lot of problems, not to mention the smell and it’s filthy and it leads to algae blooms," said Murphy.

"So, bottom line: How do we best prevent these discharges? And, overall, how do we improve the water quality. And, there’s a lot that’s been done, don’t get me wrong. But, it takes a lot of time and unfortunately, it’s very expensive.”

He says if something isn’t done about the water quality, it will continue to affect areas, like Florida’s real estate, the fishing industry, and tourism. Murphy says these are all things Congress should be worried about, which is why he’s all for the revival of the Congressional Everglades Caucus by two senior Congressmen, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Alcee Hastings.

“I plan on joining that Caucus ASAP. And, it’s really about education and informing other members of Congress and the public about the urgency of the situation here and why it’s so important to really so much of Southern Florida. So, I think if more people understood the importance of it, when it comes to the Appropriations time in Congress, these projects will get funded,” Murphy remarked.

And, Dawn Shirreffs, the National Everglades Coalition Co-Chair agrees. She says there’s a four to 1 return on investment on Everglades restoration, and Congressional leaders need to know.

Shirreffs says with Republicans and Democrats working for the benefit of the Everglades this year can only mean more good things in the future to help with barriers to Everglades restoration.

“Well, one of the biggest challenges that we have had is that Everglades Restoration when it was passed as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan relies on as we design each project, we would have to return to Congress, even if the project overall had already been reauthorized.  And, the trouble with that is it relied on a vehicle called the Water Resources Development Act, which traditionally passes every two years. But, Congress hasn’t been passing the Water Resources Development Act over the last 7 years," said Shirreffs.

"And, so we’ve had a challenge about how can we get the projects that are already to go authorized so that we can begin construction.”

Shirreffs says overall, despite some setbacks, in the last four years, she’s seen outstanding progress with restoration efforts and hopes to work with policymakers in the future.

At the time of her remarks, Shirreffs was at the the Everglades Coalition 28th Annual Conference, one of the largest open forum for exploring restoration ideas for Florida’s Everglades hosted by the Everglades Foundation. Also, in attendance were members from Congress, like Democrat Patrick Murphy, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and even a surprise appearance by Governor Rick Scott.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.