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Bush Brothers Agree to Plan for Everglades

Environment: Threatened ecosystem will get first rights to water reclaimed in a huge Florida project. Congress set conditions.


WASHINGTON — President Bush and his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed an agreement Wednesday aimed at ensuring that the water-deprived Everglades has first claim to water reclaimed through a massive $7.8-billion restoration project.

The agreement is a key step in implementing a 2000 law that pledged the federal government would pay for half of the 30-year South Florida project to stop the loss of fresh water from the fragile Everglades ecosystem, a victim of growing population demands and decades of flood control efforts.

After signing the pact in a White House ceremony, President Bush hailed the Everglades as a "unique national treasure" and declared that "restoration of this ecosystem is a priority for my administration."

Congress required that the president and the Florida governor sign a legally enforceable agreement guaranteeing adequate water for natural resources such as the Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve before any federal funding would flow to the dozens of construction projects included in the restoration plan.

Los Angeles Times Friday January 11, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Everglades restoration--The name of Shannon Estenoz, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Everglades program, was misspelled in an A-section story Thursday.

These projects are at least a year away from breaking ground, but environmentalists and some Florida lawmakers sought to ensure that the state would not promise the water to meet the needs of new housing developments and agriculture.

In the past, the health of the Everglades took a back seat to development and agriculture in the fast-growing state. As water was diverted from the wetlands, 68 species in the region came to be classified as threatened or endangered.

The agreement "puts the Everglades first in line for new water," said Shannon Estenoc, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Everglades program.

Members of Congress gave the Everglades project overwhelming bipartisan support.

The restoration project is designed to capture 1.7 billion gallons of the fresh water flowing out of the Everglades into the ocean every day and to store it in underground and surface reservoirs. Although Congress wanted the natural resources to have first claim on this water, it understood that state officials would be under pressure to provide the water to its growing population.

Under the agreement, the state "can't willy-nilly give away water to new users until it has proven that the water hasn't come out of the Everglades bank account for the future," Estenoc said.

The water is intended to benefit four national parks, 16 national wildlife reserves and a national marine sanctuary, as well as state parks.

The agreement was only one of the provisions Congress put into the legislation to try to prevent the state from depriving the Everglades ecosystem of the additional water reclaimed by the restoration project. It also required the administration to draft regulations that, among other things, would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from launching a project unless the water is reserved for the natural resources.

Environmentalists and some members of Congress criticized the draft version of these regulations, which was released last month, as lacking the teeth necessary to protect the Everglades. A final version is due later this year.

"Congress will be monitoring this process to ensure that, together, the agreement and the programmatic regulations ensure the protection of the natural system and the long-term restoration of America's Everglades," said Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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