$1.75bn deal to save Everglades

Florida's rapidly-shrinking Everglades have been thrown a lifeline by a $1.75bn deal agreed by state authorities.

State Governor Charlie Crist last week unveiled a strategy to rescue the world-famous wetlands which will see state authorities buy nearly 300m square miles of wetlands – an area almost the size of New York City – from the United States Sugar Corporation.

The aim of the scheme is to restore the ‘River of Grass’, a river that flows from Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay, and safeguard the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries.

Announcing the scheme, Governor Crist said: “We have an opportunity to provide the critical missing link in our restoration activities.

“I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, or the people of Florida, or to our country than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration.”

Robert Buker, president and CEO of the United States Sugar Corporation, added: “This is a watershed event in national conservation history, and a paradigm shift for the Everglades and the environment in Florida, one that would have been inconceivable in years past. Yet, here we are.”

State officials said the acquisition would enable them to store and clean water on a scale never before contemplated, dramatically cutting pollution and creating vital reserves for dry periods.

One of the major benefits will be eliminating the need for ‘back-pumping’ water into Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades Agricultural Area to meet water supply needs, a process which can significantly affect water quality.

In a statement on their website, local campaign group Friends of the Everglades said they had spent years calling for the purchase of the land to protect it.

“Our efforts, and yours, with the help and foresight of Governor Crist and the new board of the South Florida Water Management District are apparently paying off. This is an historic turn in the course of Everglades restoration,” they said.

The Everglades has shrunk to half the size it was a century ago following the draining of marshland for agriculture, development and flood control.

Kate Martin

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