WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, in a resounding 99-1 vote, senators acted overwhelmingly in support of water resources and sent landmark legislation to the president’s desk that would expedite restoration efforts in the Everglades. The “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018” (S. 3021) also takes important steps to advance nature-based infrastructure solutions—like restoring wetlands and dunes to reduce flood and storm damage—that are more cost-effective for the American taxpayer.
The House passed the bill unanimously last month.
“This is the biggest step forward for natural infrastructure that we’ve seen this Congress, and it builds on recent momentum to restore critical habitat and water quality in the Everglades,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “American sportsmen and women should be heartened to see this level of bipartisanship for conservation, especially at a moment in the political calendar when both sides typically retreat to their own corners. We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Barrasso, Sen. Carper, Rep. Shuster, and Rep. DeFazio.”
The legislation advances two critical projects that will improve clean water flows throughout South Florida and supports the development of technologies to reduce harmful algal blooms that infamously killed fish across the state this summer. It will also provide for more advanced research on preventing the spread of invasive species like Asian carp and zebra mussels, whose growing populations threaten many popular fishing destinations.
“Today is a great day for America’s Everglades and the people of Florida. Construction can now begin on a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that is vital to reconnecting the lake to the Florida Keys. The economic benefits of this project cannot be overstated, as Florida’s economy depends on clean water, thriving fisheries and a robust real estate market,” says Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
Indeed, improving habitat and supporting predictable fishing opportunities will benefit Florida’s $2.9-billion recreational fishing industry.
“Passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act is a monumental step in restoring the Everglades and providing clean water for Florida’s fisheries. This legislation is crucial to reducing the ongoing estuary discharges and algal blooms affecting the state, and we greatly appreciate the leadership of Florida’s Congressional Delegation in securing its passage. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that sufficient funding is available to carry out the Act’s provisions,” says Kellie Ralston, Southeast Fisheries Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.
The bill also greenlights a feasibility study for habitat restoration projects in the Lower Mississippi River region. These projects could produce multiple benefits for fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities across six states.
Another important provision of this legislation will help to give higher priority to natural and nature-based infrastructure solutions that reduce storm risks, enhance public safety, and conserve fish and wildlife habitat near Army Corps of Engineers project sites. Lawmakers supported requiring the Government Accountability Office to examine the costs and benefits that the Corps considers when authorizing projects. The current process likely underestimates the long-term cost savings of natural infrastructure projects, and bringing greater transparency to project deliberations is a positive step toward righting this imbalance.