The pace of successfully conserving lands important to wildlife and water resources in Florida increased markedly in 2023. Using higher conservation land and easement purchase funds provided by the Florida Legislature, the state acquired land and easements preserving more than 100,000 acres. That is 166 square miles of Florida that will never be developed, where birds and wildlife thrive, aquifers are recharged by rainfall, and water stored naturally in wetlands, lakes, and streams. The properties purchased or placed under protective conservation easements include land vital to the Everglades and the Kissimmee River system, including more than 10,000 acres in the Fisheating Creek watershed, 17,000 acres in the Devils Garden Swamp in Hendry County, and 8,000 acres in the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge; all places needed to assemble the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The protected properties span the entire geography of the state, with 12,000+ acres now in state ownership within the Telogia Creek watershed in Liberty County in Florida’s Panhandle, and important sections of the Rainbow River and the Ocala National Forest in Marion County.
In 2023 we saw a landmark number of projects cross the finish line and more break ground.
- Taylor Slough Flow Improvements: Finished!
- CEPP North: Ground broken!
- Biscayne Bay Cutler Wetlands: Water flowing!
- EAA Reservoir: Ground broken ahead of schedule!
These accomplishments come from long-standing and consistent engagement by Audubon’s Everglades team and partner organizations. Steady funding from both the federal and state government has fueled the pace of Everglades restoration.
This time last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) put the finishing touches on a rule that would update the state’s permitting programs to manage stormwater. The process began in June 2020 when Governor DeSantis signed SB 712 into law to require improvements to many state programs that manage water quality and water supply. The successful passage of SB 1379 during the last legislative session—a DEP priority—outlined concrete actions to reduce nutrient pollution (primarily from wastewater) across the state, especially within identified restoration plans with a particular focus on Indian River Lagoon. Now that Florida has regulatory updates addressing improvements to wastewater infrastructure, we must make similar updates to our stormwater permitting program. Florida’s existing stormwater rules are more than forty years old and are simply not protective enough. The new stormwater rule adopted in May 2023 needs to be ratified.
In 2024, our legislators must update Florida’s 40-year-old stormwater rules, with more protective requirements to reduce algae-fueling nutrient runoff.
Development in Florida is at an all-time high; we must get this right. Make sure you are signed up for our Advocate newsletter to stay up-to-date on when we need your voice to improve Florida’s stormwater and protect our coastlines from the scourge of algal blooms: fl.audubon.org/advocate.
Funding for Environmental Programs
In December, Governor DeSantis unveiled his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2024–2025, totaling $114.4 billion. His recommendations include a groundbreaking $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration and water quality improvements. As our state continues to prepare to brace against rising seas, the Governor’s recommendations included $157 million for resiliency programs and for protecting coral reefs, our first line of defense against storm surge. His budget also includes $100 million for the Florida Forever land conservation program, as well as $100 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program to purchase conservation easements to protect natural resources and agricultural lands.