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Groups hail passage of Water Resources Development Act

By CJ HADDAD / cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com - | Jan 5, 2021

A bill that includes federal funding for water quality projects that heavily impact Florida waterways and ecosystems was en route to the president’s desk for approval as of Dec. 22.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 received bipartisan Congressional approval on Dec. 21. The bill, in part, includes a combined $250 million for Everglades restoration, removes obstacles in regards to the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir completion and imposes further evaluations of Lake Okeechobee releases.

“This year’s water bill shows that, when it comes to restoring America’s Everglades, people of all political stripes can put their differences aside and work to improve our environment,” The Everglades Foundation Chief Executive Officer Eric Eikenberg said in a statement. “This legislation goes further than any previous measure in protecting Florida’s coastal communities against algae-causing discharges of Lake Okeechobee water and takes major steps forward to ensure timely completion of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.

“We are especially pleased that the final measure includes an appropriation of $250 million for Everglades restoration, an essential first step as we begin to speed up construction and an improved baseline for future funding,” he added.

The bill in included in a $1.4 trillion piece of omnibus legislation ready for signature by President Donald Trump.

The importance of the WRDA’s importance lies in the authorization power of projects and programs led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study, design and create water transportation and infrastructure needs.

“The passage of WRDA 2020 shows that protecting and conserving our water resources continues to be an issue where both parties can find common ground,” Sarah Greenberger, Audubon interim chief conservation officer and senior vice president for Conservation Policy, said in a statement. “The natural infrastructure provisions included in WRDA 2020 will bolster efforts to provide climate resilience benefits to communities and habitat for birds at the same time.”

According to officials, Audubon worked with coalition partners throughout the WRDA process to support projects in the Everglades, Mississippi River basin, Great Lakes region, Rio Grande watershed and Chesapeake Bay.

Projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) will continue to aim to revive a critical ecosystem, restore various wildlife habitats and balance the water needs of nearby communities.

According to Audubon, the final bill includes provisions that will benefit economically disadvantaged communities by waiving cost share requirements and promoting technical assistance for community resiliency planning.