- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Beginning June 23, The Washington Post ran a four-part series totaling more than 18,000 words titled "The Swamp," on the past, present and future of America's Everglades. While Floridians were gratified that this precious ecosystem received so much coverage and attention, the series gave the false impression that the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan would not and could not meet its goals.

This theme continued as recently as July 17, when the same reporter recounted a delay in the implementation of one component of the plan.

The Post chose not to publish my response. But all Americans need to know why Everglades restoration must succeed and will succeed, despite the disagreements and adjustments that will occur over the next 25 years. To think there will be no bumps on the road would be the worst kind of hubris, because never before has a society attempted to restore nature on such a massive scale.

Critics suggest that the Everglades restoration plan is not comprehensive, that it guarantees water for people but not nature, and that it subsidizes water supply, and therefore growth. Each of these claims is either false or misleading.

First, the Everglades plan is remarkably comprehensive. Although all of the elements are not enacted in a single law or overseen by a single government agency, all the bases are covered by this plan.

For example, the commitment for assuring water quality in the Everglades is firmly established in the Clean Water Act, and responsibility for maintaining that commitment rests with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Just because we haven't created an entirely new government bureaucracy does not mean that this plan is not comprehensive.

Second, nature will absolutely receive the water it needs for the Everglades to be fully restored.

Part of the confusion here may arise from the zero-sum mentality that often characterizes conflict in our society. This restoration plan is different. It is holistic. It recognizes that Everglades restoration and a long-term, sustainable water supply are not mutually exclusive. These goals complement each other, rather than conflict with each other.

At the same time, putting 100 percent of the water into an area that is now 50 percent of its original size would permanently drown the Everglades. The restoration plan recognizes this, and as water that is currently flushed out to the sea via canals is recaptured, it will be reserved to ensure that nature receives the water it needs in the right quantities, at the right times and at the right places.

Finally, the suggestion that the plan subsidizes water supply misses the point at several levels.

First, the federal government was a full partner a generation ago in draining the Everglades. Now, it must be a full partner in fixing the damage. That's only fair.

Second, Florida has made the unprecedented commitment to fully fund half of the project.

Third, the plan does not subsidize the construction of utilities or the pumps and pipes that are needed to provide water supply service. The restoration plan reclaims water now being lost to the sea and puts it back into the Everglades' natural watery landscape. The cost of developing the infrastructure to supply water will, appropriately, be borne by the water consumer.

The original series in The Post and its follow-up articles, of course, were not all bad. They detailed the vision behind Everglades restoration, the innovative technologies that are being implemented and the remarkable coalition that has been assembled to support it. The Post even recalled President Bush's observation that the Everglades is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles live side by side, and that Congress might learn from this example.

I believe that Congress and the American people have learned from this example, and have made the right decision in embracing this project. This plan is complex, long-term, and dynamic. It is the result of years of scientific research and yet, because of its very nature, it is a work-in-progress.

On more than one occasion, The Post compared Everglades restoration to President John F. Kennedy's challenge to land the first man on the Moon. While the comparison is fitting, we know far more about the task before us now than the nation knew in 1961 about its upcoming lunar mission.

We know the restoration plan is sound. Indeed, no other plan exists. Now that we have planned the work, we must work the plan.

Jeb Bush, a Republican, is the governor of Florida.

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