PHOTO OF SUNSET IN THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES BY J.A., VIA ADOBE STOCK

BY ANNA UPTON

During his first inaugural address in 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “It now falls to me to build upon the foundation that has been laid, navigate the challenges – economic, environmental, constitutional – that lie ahead, and steer Florida to a stronger, cleaner and safer future.”

He has done just that.

In that same address, he said, “For Florida, the quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state — it doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life. The water is part and parcel of Florida’s DNA. Protecting it is the smart thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do.”

Two days later, Gov. DeSantis signed an executive order that would take immediate action to protect our environment and one of our most critical natural resources, that also sustains our thriving economy – our water.

The order laid out numerous environmental policies and directives and pledged to: 1) secure $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources; 2) expedite critical Everglades restoration projects, including the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir; 3) establish a Blue-Green Algae Task Force, charged with expediting progress toward reducing the adverse impacts of blue-green algae blooms; 4) appoint a chief science officer; and 5) establish an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection.

He accomplished all of this and more.

This commitment was only the start of a first term that would include many extraordinary milestones and achievements for restoring the Everglades and protecting our natural resources, including signing into law Senate Bill 712, which included the most significant environmental reforms in decades and created the state’s Resilient Florida program. Under Gov. DeSantis’ leadership, the South Florida Water Management District started, hit major milestones, or finished more than 50 Everglades-related project components.

Gov. DeSantis’ overwhelming victory on Election Day showed that restoring America’s Everglades and protecting the environment is top of mind for Floridians and that the economics of the Everglades’ health and Florida’s waters continue to be a priority for voters and the businesses that drive Florida’s tourism-based economy.

A healthy environment is an essential ingredient to a flourishing economy, and Floridians who have been here for decades and even for those that have even just moved here recognize that important link. Gov. DeSantis has understood from the start that the economy and environment are tied together.

On Jan. 3, when Gov. DeSantis gave his second inaugural address, he … reiterated his commitment to Everglades restoration, saying, “Florida is now in a golden era for conservation of our treasured natural resources. Our momentum is strong, and we will finish what we started — we will leave Florida to God better than we found it!”

A week after his inauguration … Gov. DeSantis signed a new executive order laying out a blueprint that builds on the promises he fulfilled during his first term.

In detail, Gov. DeSantis increased his funding commitment to $3.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration, water quality initiatives, and water supply protections for Floridians, businesses, and tourists alike.

The executive order prioritizes investments to restore water quality in the Indian River Lagoon and seeks to protect the taxpayers’ investment in Everglades restoration. It also continues to prioritize and expedite the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir; it fortifies progress made on the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual; it re-establishes the Blue-Green Algae Task Force; and it strengthens basin management action plans and seeks to improve best management practices working in conjunction with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

There is no doubt Gov. DeSantis’ commitment to the Everglades in his first term was monumental, but the commitment he has made to the Everglades and the environment in the newly signed executive order is unquestionably historic.

Time and again, Gov. DeSantis makes promises, and he delivers on those promises. If his first term is any indication of what he can accomplish, Floridians and the great state of Florida will see this historic commitment become a reality.

— Upton is CEO of the Everglades Trust. Her commentary was edited for length. To learn more about the Everglades Trust, visit EvergladesTrust.org.

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