With algae blooms, the future health of the Everglades, $1.2 billion in state doc stamp tax money, an enormous reservoir project, entrenched sugar interests, a heretofore dormant Florida constitutional amendment, the united opinion of more than 200 scientists, and a recalcitrant — but changing — political environment, a lot is riding on the NowOrNeverglades bus touring Florida this month.
The bus, a project of the Everglades Foundation, visited Orlando Thursday on the second day of its 12-day, 20-city tour of Florida seeking to drum up support for the next big project to restore and save the Florida Everglades. This time, a $2.4 billion, 60,000-acre, 120 billion-gallon reservoir planned as a water retention, diversion, and storage system to better manage flow into or away from the river of grass.
“All of this is to say we can solve this problem. This is to promote a critical need, an aboveground reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, taking water from the lake, storing it to the south, and sending water through the Everglades, down to the Florida Keys,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.
The bus tour serves two purposes: circulating the NowOrNeverglades declaration, signed last year by 207 Everglades scientists, to add popular weight to the scientific consensus; and to increase detailed discussion of the science and politics of Florida’s biggest environmental issue. Eikenberg and other officials including Steve Davis, an ecologist with the foundation, are meeting with editorial boards and others.
On Monday the bus made two stops in Orlando, including one at the University of Central Florida, where students were encouraged to sign the declaration by staff and volunteers including reigning Miss Florida, Courtney Sexton. They gathered more than 400 signatures there before moving on to the Ategon Marketplace on International Drive for an evening presentation.
The reservoir has been in the works for 16 years, since Congress approved it as the second project to address Everglades restoration. Still stalled and needing state funding, the project got a boost in 2014 when Florida voters approved Amendment 1, setting aside a third of the state’s document stamp tax revenue for conservation land purchases, which were anticipated to be used for the project. But Tallahassee infighting left it going nowhere. Now, with the support of incoming Senate President Joe Negron, whose Palm City-based district includes much of the affected area, Eikenberg and others are touring with far more confidence.
“We have the money, with Amendment 1; now we need the political will in Tallahassee,” Eikenberg said.
The bus heads for Tampa Friday.