Friday, June 29, 2007

Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem Gets Funding

Governor Signs New Law For Okeechobee Ecosystem Restoration

CLEWISTON, FL. -- Governor Charlie Crist this week signed a "green" law that expands the restoration of the famed Everglades River of Grass to Lake Okeechobee and the farthest northern reaches of the Everglades ecosystem.  The new law provides the infusion of funding for improving and protecting the health of the northern Everglades, including the nation's second largest freshwater lake and its surrounding coastal estuaries. 

Passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature, the law expands the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act to safeguard and restore the entire northern Everglades system, including the Lake Okeechobee watershed as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.  Over the next two years, the law calls for the development of plans to protect and improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water north of Lake Okeechobee.  These plans will augment and enhance restoration currently underway in the remnant Everglades south of the lake. 

As part of the plan to improve the health of the northern Everglades, Florida will set aside land, construct treatment wetlands and identify the water storage areas needed to improve the quality, timing and distribution of water into the natural system.

Additionally, the protection plans for Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries will require improved best farming practices, the use of the best available "green" technologies to clean up pollutants, more stringent regulations for the application of wastewater residuals in the watershed and an accelerated timeline for implementing a Total Maximum Daily Load for the Caloosahatchee.  The law requires the South Florida Water Management District to develop the protection plans in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and affected local governments – including Lee, Hendry, Charlotte, Glades, Okeechobee, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

The law extends the Save Our Everglades Trust Fund for 10 years through 2020 and expands its purpose.  Florida's 2007-08 budget, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Crist, includes $200 million for the restoration and protection of the River of Grass, allocating $100 million for Everglades restoration, $54 million for the restoration of Lake Okeechobee, as well as $40 million to protect the health of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

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