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Press Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 18, 2010
CONTACT: Governor’s Press Office, (850) 488-5394
  Amy Graham, (850) 245-2112, (850) 778-7258 (cell)

Governor Crist Reaffirms Commitment to Everglades Restoration during Tour of St. Lucie River and Estuary

~ Emphasizes importance of northern Everglades in River of Grass restoration ~

STUART – Governor Charlie Crist today, continuing his focus on protecting the health of the Everglades, along with former Senator Ken Pruitt, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael W. Sole and several local and environmental leaders, toured the St. Lucie River and estuary – a component of the northern Everglades ecosystem. The trip, beginning at one of Florida’s DEP designated Clean Marinas, reinforces the Governor’s commitment to restoring the River of Grass. During the past three years, Governor Crist has signed budgets designating $300 million toward Everglades restoration.

“The well-being of the St. Lucie River and estuary is of great importance to Florida’s economy and quality of life,” said Governor Crist. “Viewing this amazing habitat further confirms the need to acquire land from U.S. Sugar so that the mosaic of estuaries, freshwater ponds, prairies and forested uplands that compose Florida’s famed River of Grass can be restored and protected for future generations.”

Governor Crist’s tour of the St. Lucie River began in Stuart at the Sunset Bay Marina and Anchorage, the 200th member of DEP’s Florida Clean Marina Program. Florida's marine industry represents a total economic output of more than $18.4 billion and supports more than 220,000 jobs.

The tour is a part of the Governor’s continued focus on protecting the health of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries. In his 2010-11 budget recommendations, Governor Crist proposed $50 million to ensure that Everglades projects will continue to restore a more natural water flow for this unique ecosystem and improve water quality for all of South Florida. Lake Okeechobee is the upstream water source for the Everglades and provides the water supply for nearby towns, agricultural operations and downstream ecosystems. The lake supports a multi-million dollar recreational and commercial fishery, as well as flood control for surrounding communities.

The St. Lucie River watershed is one of the largest brackish water systems on Florida’s east coast and an essential component of the northern Everglades ecosystem. These waters provide a vital habitat for abundant populations of fish and other economically important species.

“Governor Crist’s visit today draws attention to the need for restoration of the entire Everglades ecosystem, from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to Florida Bay,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Eric Buermann. “The St. Lucie River and Estuary together form a critical part of that vast ecosystem and are integral to the way of life in Martin and St. Lucie counties. We are grateful for the Governor's bold vision and unrelenting commitment to acquiring lands critical for restoration."

On June 24, 2008, Governor Crist announced that the State of Florida would acquire land in the Everglades Agricultural Area from U.S. Sugar, providing an extraordinary opportunity for Everglades restoration. The land will safeguard the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries, offering the following benefits:
  • Increasing the availability of water storage to significantly reduce the potential for harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee caused by “back-pumping” to the St. Lucie River watershed when lake levels are high.
  • Delivering cleaner water to the Everglades and the St. Lucie River watershed during dry times and greater water storage to protect the natural system during wet years.
  • Preventing large phosphorus loads from entering the Everglades and the St. Lucie River watershed every year.
  • Providing additional water storage alternatives to relieve some pressures on the Herbert Hoover Dike while the federal government undertakes repairs.

“Part of the solution to improve and protect water quality in the St. Lucie estuary is to construct more water storage and treatment areas in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” said DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole. “The U.S. Sugar land acquisition will allow for the construction of additional reservoirs and water quality treatment areas, allowing water to be moved south and improving water quality in coastal estuaries.”

Adding to the expected benefits of acquiring agricultural land from U.S. Sugar, Martin County recently received $4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to reestablish oyster reefs in the St. Lucie estuary. This project will help improve water quality and provide a refuge for small fish and other aquatic life, benefiting the health of the ecosystem and stimulating the local economy. According to Martin County, in 2008, residents and visitors to the county’s waterways spent more than $11.8 million on recreational activities, creating 2,502 jobs. To learn more about oyster restoration projects, visit www.oysterrestoration.com

About Everglades Restoration

Florida’s Everglades restoration efforts are truly historic. To date, Florida has invested more than $2.4 billion in the 30-year, $10.9 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The plan is a 50/50 state and federal partnership to restore and protect the Everglades. During the two tightest budget years in Florida history, $50 million has been dedicated for Everglades restoration in both 2008 and 2009 to continue the state’s partnership with the federal government. The Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District recently agreed to invest approximately $530 million for 72,500 acres of property south of Lake Okeechobee. The district will have an option to purchase another 107,500 acres for restoration within 10 years after closing.

In 2007, Governor Crist worked to expand the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act to safeguard the entire northern Everglades system, including the Lake Okeechobee watershed as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries. He has worked to protect and improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water north of Lake Okeechobee. Additionally, the continuation of the Florida Forever program is a key component to securing the future of the Everglades.

For more information, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/evergladesforever.

alligator in the everglades

"The well-being of the St. Lucie River and estuary is of great importance to Florida’s economy and quality of life."

Charlie Crist
Governor

–30–

10–050

Last updated: March 19, 2010

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