Update: Sec. Salazar Pledges Support to Restore The Everglades

Interior Secretary Salazar on Thursday pledged the Obama administration's support in the effort to restore the Everglades. He was in Florida to be briefed on invasive species, such as the Burmese python.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday promised the administration's support in moving forward the restoration of the Florida Everglades, a massive project that would greatly benefit Everglades National Park.

The Interior secretary, in Florida to better understand the problems the Everglades faces from invasive species such as the Burmese python, called the unprecedented initiative a national priority requiring continuing commitment and bi-partisan support.

“Restoring this treasured landscape, one of our nation’s crown jewels, is the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in the United States,” Salazar said after meeting with Everglades Restoration support groups and touring a section of the ‘River of Grass’ with U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and Florida Gov. Charles Crist. “This administration is firmly committed to the federal-state partnership working to achieve this goal and has already proposed more than $600 million to fund ongoing projects and to generate good jobs in design, engineering, construction and rehabilitation work.”

What's wrong with the Everglades? Just about ever since whites headed to south Florida they've built channels and dikes and canals in efforts to figure out how to drain the "River of Grass" for various reasons running from agriculture to real estate developments. While those many efforts haven't been entirely successful, they have produced more than a few kinks in the water system that flows both into and out of Lake Okeechobee.

Development has been so rampant in south Florida down through the past century that the boundaries of Everglades National Park protect only the southern fifth of the historic Everglades ecosystem, and external pressures are threatening even it.

"This complex and challenging effort needs and deserves bi-partisan support from state and federal leaders. Our presence here today reflects that approach and that commitment to restore a national treasure while creating jobs for Americans,” said the Interior secretary.

The Everglades Restoration partnership works to restore, preserve, and protect the South Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection. With an estimated total cost of $10.7 billion to the federal government and $11.8 billion to the state of Florida, the initiative is the largest hydrologic restoration project in U.S. history.

The Omnibus Appropriation Act for fiscal year 2009 provides a total of $241 million for Everglades’ projects, including $118 million from the Department of the Interior and $123 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted earlier this year, provided $119.2 million in stimulus funding for Everglades work, including $18.6 million for Interior agencies and $100.6 million from the Army Corps of Engineers.

President Obama’s budget request for 2010 would provide an additional $278 million for Everglades’ restoration, including $64 million from Interior and $214 million from the Corps. The 2010 budget for Everglades is $37 million above the 2009 enacted level

Folks over at the National Parks Conservation Association had hoped the Interior secretary's visit would include time studying the restoration project, which was bogged down during the Bush administration.

“Today’s visit by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to the Everglades provides him an opportunity to see firsthand the critical need to restore our historic 'River of Grass,'" John Adornato, the NPCA's Sun Coast regional director, said in advance of Secretary Salazar's visit. "A healthy and revitalized Everglades is the bedrock of South Florida’s environment, economy, and quality of life.

“The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, passed by Congress in 2000, was a groundbreaking law aimed at restoring America’s Everglades after decades of destruction. Yet over the last eight years, federal funding and support has been inadequate, leaving the Everglades on life support and providing little benefit to the South Florida national parks," adds Mr. Adornato.