Two Southwest Florida Congressmen visited Picayune Strand State Forest Monday, as part of their push to secure funding for Everglades restoration projects. Congressman Francis Rooney and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans, said that millions of dollars in funding for the projects has already been approved in the House Appropriations bills.
"The effects of not having Everglades restoration would obviously be very damaging," Diaz-Balart said.
The top priority, he said, is strengthening the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
"(The Amry Corps of Engineers) have had to release water and keep the lake at a lower level than we should have to, to keep it safe," Diaz-Balart said.
Those water releases into the Caloosahatchee River have led to murky water on Southwest Florida beaches, as well as environmentally harmful algae blooms on both coasts.
"I've been carrying around a picture of the water off of Sanibel on the first of June, and of the 26th of June last year," Rooney said. "Of course, one is green and one is black."
Including $82 million for the Hoover Dike, the congressmen are seeking more than 375 million for Everglades restoration, spread through various agencies and projects. They said improving the health of the Everglades is crucial for Florida's economy and environment, as well as for providing clean drinking water.
"It is essential that we continue to do what we are doing, which is re-plumbing the Everglades, and making sure that it's vital, that it's alive...that it's a vibrant place," said Diaz-Balart.
Rooney said that the White House Office of Budget and Management cut the funds requested by the Army Corps of Engineers by 60%, but that he hopes to revisit that matter in a future budget.
The funding now has to be negotiated with the Senate. Rooney and Diaz-Balart hope that President Trump will sign off on it in September.