This spring I was proud to carry a bill in the House which will conclude Everglades restoration south of Lake Okeechobee. While you might have missed it, the Florida Legislature brought to a close one of the most successful environmental restoration efforts in history. By fully funding the plan proposed by Governor Scott, we will ensure that the southern Everglades and Everglades National Park will forever receive water of high quality; water which exceeds every standard placed upon it over that last 20 years.
Upon becoming a State in 1845, one of the first acts of the Legislature was to ask Congress for permission to drain the swamps of our state. Nearly a hundred years before a single sugar farmer made their way to Palm Beach County, the citizens of Florida approved and funded a plan to drain the State. An ultimate result of these policies was the creation of the Central & Southern Florida Flood Control Project, now managed principally by the South Florida Water Management District.
The project was designed to accomplish three things: protect human life and property from floods, provide drinking water to two million people in South Florida and make land available for farming. Nearly 60 years later, the relatively tiny Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) grows more than half the sugarcane and a majority of the sweet corn and winter vegetables for the nation. Also, we have never repeated a massive loss of life from flooding, such as the roughly 5,000 souls lost in the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes. And, our water management system now supplies drinking water to over six million people in South Florida. By every measure for which it was designed, the project exceeds all expectations.
However, the 1940's era project was never designed for the natural Everglades and, undoubtedly, we've paid a heavy price for it. Yet the State of Florida has spent the last 40 years intensively focused on reverse engineering this system to accommodate environmental restoration and protection. And here the success story continues.
Under a court order to clean the water to a level of 10 parts per billion (ppb) of phosphorous, we have now reached 13 ppb, down from near 70 ppb. That is an astounding accomplishment. Furthermore, the Everglades plan recently signed into law will get us to the final goal - that's why the plan was approved unanimously by all 160 members of the Legislature, both Democratic and Republican.
Unfortunately, former Commissioner Judah and his allies in the radical environmental movement will only be satisfied once eight million Floridians, residents and farmers alike, complete their exodus from the Everglades. When Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Naples, and Fort Myers are once again wilderness, perhaps then they will be satisfied. My colleagues and I in the state capital choose to deal in reality, however.
Now to the heart of the issue: the health of the Caloosahatchee. While farmers within the EAA serve as an easy target for Judah, he refuses to acknowledge that the vast majority of the water reaching the Caloosahatchee comes from north of Lake Okeechobee. With the help of my colleagues, we have secured additional funding for the first water quality project on the Caloosahatchee in history. When it breaks ground later this year, it will begin to remove high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen from the water in the River.
While former Commissioner Judah talked about the River for 30 years, I'm proud to have helped facilitate a real project in my short three years in political service. I consider myself a conservationist and, to that end, I support projects that promote and protect the environment in a way that complements human presence. I am honored by the opportunity to serve this community and will continue to do so for as long as you will have me.
State Rep. Matt Caldwell, represents District 79, which includes Lehigh Acres.