Cloture Motion

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 6, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, I wish to speak about one of the world's great natural treasures, the Florida Everglades. Eighteen years ago, there was an anniversary; as a matter of fact, it was in December of 2000. One of the major water bills that Congress passes, usually about every 5 to 7 years, was enacted, and they typically contain Army Corps of Engineers' projects for water handling, water channeling the great rivers and lakes of America. All of these water projects are so vital to the economic functioning of this country. This water bill was passed back in December of 2000 to provide funding for projects on ports, dams, and beach renourishment projects all across the country. It also authorized for the first time the comprehensive restoration plan for America's Florida Everglades. It was a 30-year, multibillion dollar effort to restore the Everglades.

What had happened, ever since the beginning of the previous century-- in the early 1900s--as Florida started to be discovered and as people increasingly had come, the way it was paved in the late 1800s, with Henry Flagler building his railroad, the railroad went down the east coast of Florida. He would build it as far as he could get, first to St. Augustine, where there was built a big hotel. That hotel today is the administrative building of Flagler College in downtown St. Augustine.

Then Flagler extended it further to the Daytona-Ormond Beach location, where another big hotel was built. Taking it further south, all the way to West Palm Beach, the famed Breakers hotel in Palm Beach was built, as well as a Biltmore hotel.

Finally, Henry Flagler took it on to Miami and then did a feat thought impossible and went through a string of islands called the Florida Keys. He took the railroad all the way to Key West.

This was a means of travel that opened up to Americans in the Northeast this beautiful land called La Florida in Spanish, the name given by the Spanish conquistadors who came to Florida. Indeed, they came and they loved this land.

As more and more people came and started settling, they found that sometimes Mother Nature was harsh. When Mother Nature came in its full display of fury, hurricanes would come; quick rainstorms would come; quick changes of temperature occurred, from warm to suddenly freezing, even with--albeit, not a lot of snow, but I have seen parts of Florida with the ground covered in snow and other parts that were pelted with freezing rain.

As people tried to adapt to this land of contrasting environments, all of a sudden, they started to see nature, and along in the late 1920s came a hurricane of such magnitude that when it hit the coast around West Palm Beach and then went inland to Lake Okeechobee, 3,000 people drowned.

As a result of that experience, the governmental structure said: We have to do something about flood control. Thus, the diking and draining for three-quarters of a century commenced under the rubric of flood control that would get the water off the land when too much water came at one time. But what happened was, suddenly they had a plan to reverse what Mother Nature had intended. Mother Nature intended for water as far north as southwest of today's Orlando to slowly flow south all the way into the big lake, Lake Okeechobee, and continue on into the Florida Everglades.

What happened with all this diking and draining was it was taking away that natural flow of water. In order to get the water off the land in times of flooding, they created big dikes and canals that would send the water out into the tidewater of the Atlantic in the east and the Gulf of Mexico in the west.

Take, for example, coming south of Orlando in the Kissimmee chain of lakes into what was a meandering stream called the Kissimmee River, where it slowly wandered southward through the oxbows with all the marsh grasses, cleansing the water as it went south and then entering into that big lake called Okeechobee, which did not have defined boundaries but, instead, marshy grasses all around the lake. The water, by gravity, continued to flow south into a natural extension of the marshy grasses, into the miles and miles of river grass that Marjory Stoneman Douglas had declared so beautifully as the ``river of grass,'' the Florida Everglades. So Lake Okeechobee had a way of taking care of its water and keeping it clean.

After losing 3,000 people in that hurricane, the idea was to control the water--dike and drain it; dike the lake and drain it to the east and to the west, eventually into the St. Lucie River to go into the Atlantic and into the Caloosahatchee, to go into the Gulf of Mexico. So meandering streams like the Kissimmee River were suddenly diked and dug into a straight ditch. It was catastrophic for the sensitive estuaries that were cleansing the water as it moved south. It was catastrophic for the estuaries, where so many of the critters had the nursery grounds for their young, as well as the many fish species.

Lo and behold, across the entire southern peninsula of Florida, a dike was built called Tamiami Trail, a paved road from Miami over to the west coast, just south of Fort Myers and Naples. That, in effect, became a dike across the southern peninsula of Florida that did not allow the water to flow further south into what, ultimately, as a result of President Harry Truman's signing it into law, became the Everglades National Park. Consequently, the Everglades National Park was then starved of freshwater.

The consequences of all of those actions over almost a century are painfully visible in years like this one. Because of the pollution of that water, instead of the grasses cleansing it, toxic blue-green algae chokes the rivers and spreads all the way out to the Atlantic Ocean to the east and to the Gulf of Mexico to the west.

People have seen in this past year the dramatic images of dead fish covering the water's surface, covering the beach on the west coast and, lo and behold, ultimately that phenomenon of red tide being supercharged with green algae. Ultimately, it went around the peninsula and up the east coast, and we saw dead fish on the beaches of the Atlantic coast as well.

We need to return the waterflow to the flow that Mother Nature intended. That is what the restoration of the Everglades is all about, and that is how that started 18 years ago this month, with a comprehensive plan to turn around that flood control--that diking and draining of all of the southern half of the peninsula of Florida, which has now caused so many of the unintended effects.

If you think about it, when the ecosystem is healthy, the Everglades are healthy. When the ecosystem is sick, all of the rest of that beautiful ecosystem is going to be sickly as well. What we have seen with the little bit of cleaning up we have done is that the Everglades are amazingly resilient. The environment and the Everglades are the heart and soul of Florida. These precious natural resources deserve our protection and stewardship because now they provide drinking water for millions and millions of people in South Florida who have moved there and for a major agricultural industry.

The Everglades also provide storm protection. That is why the ongoing Everglades restoration effort is so important. We need to ensure that the Everglades are there to provide a buffer the next time a hurricane rolls through.

We understand there is a link between warming ocean temperatures and hurricane intensity. If the climate trends continue--and I will reference my speech on climate change and global warming and the rising of the seas that I gave last week. As that climate trend continues, if we don't reverse it, then it is all the more important to fortify Mother Nature's best defenses.

Not only are beaches and the preservation of them as one of those defenses important, but so are the Florida Everglades. Beaches, wetlands, coral reefs, mangroves all protect us against storm damage. We saw that during Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast and Hurricane Matthew in Florida. We are learning that proved true again during Hurricane Irma. That is why it is so critical that we preserve our natural infrastructure and conserve the undeveloped lands. As that famous Floridian, Marjory Stoneman Douglas said:

There are no other Everglades in the world. . . . The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.

Since I have been privileged to be a Member of the Senate, the Federal Government has spent almost $5 billion on Everglades restoration. We have some great things to show for it, but we have a long way to go.

Wading birds is an example. They are returning to the Kissimmee River floodplain. Water is finally flowing under that dike that was built in the 1920s--the Tamiami Trail. Now there is a breach of a mile-long bridge, and there is another 2\1/2\-mile bridge that is under construction to allow that water to flow south into the Everglades National Park.

We are seeing the return of native wildlife in areas where projects are still underway.

I referenced the Central Everglades Restoration Project that was passed in the water bill 18 years ago. It was originally envisioned as a 30-year plan because we knew we couldn't reverse all of the drainage and the engineering overnight. Out of 30 years, we are into the 18th year, with 12 more to go. It is a long-term effort, and it requires two things: diligent oversight over the ongoing work and an unwavering dedication to achieving Florida's goal of a restored Everglades.

This Senator, whose family came to Florida in 1829, is a fifth- generation Floridian. I understand this is an important project to protect our beautiful natural treasures, but what happens if we don't?

We have all seen the environmental and economic wreckage, for example, from an oilspill. We have seen NASA images from space of mangroves flattened after a hurricane. As the hurricanes get stronger, more ferocious, and more intense, that will be a result, as well as the wiping out of beaches.

All too often in recent years, this Senator has seen the devastating impact of toxic algae blooms on communities all over the Peninsula of Florida and even into North Florida. When you take a body of water and throw a sack of fertilizer in it, the combination of heat and the nutrients are going to grow algae in most any light but especially in the warm climate of Florida. As a result, by that same example, if you take our freshwater in Florida and allow pollution to go into that because the pollution is not properly regulated, it puts the nutrients into the freshwater that will grow the algae. The algae will suck the oxygen from the water, and that becomes a dead river or a dead lake. All those extra nutrients then, when they hit the saltwater on the Atlantic coast or the Gulf of Mexico, supercharge other phenomenon that lives in saltwater, such as the red tide. We have seen that devastating impact.

There was a Floridian whom we recently lost, Nat Reed. He was particularly attuned to the needs of Florida's environment. We are going to honor his legacy in a memorial service this coming weekend. We are doing that because Nat Reed was one of the great defenders of Florida's natural bounty, especially the Everglades. In the 1970s, he served both Presidents Nixon and Ford. He returned to Florida, and he worked under seven different Governors in many different environmental capacities, including as chairman of the Commission on Florida's Environmental Future. Back in the 1980s, that commission was instrumental in the land acquisition projects we now know as Everglades Restoration.

For Nat Reed, his children and his grandchildren, for all of the current and future generations of Floridians, let's honor the legacy of Nat Reed, and let's stay the course over the next 12 years of this Central Everglades Restoration Project. Let's complete it and restore America's Everglades.