"In today's historic veto override, Congress has kept its promise to restore America's Everglades and made an historic national commitment to the protection of more of America's most sensitive and valuable ecosystems, including the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi River, and the Great Lakes," said April Gromnicki, Audubon's Director of Ecosystem Restoration. "If there is a cause that merits a historic vote such as this, it's fitting that the cause be to restore some of our most special places before they are lost forever."
In total, the $23 billion piece of legislation authorizes funding for navigation, flood protection, and $6 billion in ecosystem restoration. The level of ecosystem restoration funding is unprecedented. This is the first veto override of the Bush presidency and only the 106th in U.S. history. The law authorizes funding for the projects, and the funding must be approved in the 2009 appropriations process.
EVERGLADES RESTORATION: $1.8 Billion
Three crucial Everglades restoration projects are authorized in WRDA. The projects mitigate harmful federal drainage projects, help the Everglades by restoring more than 150,000 acres of wetlands and significant estuarine habitat, and help secure Florida's tourism and outdoor recreation economy. The projects will also improve water quality for the Everglades, Florida Bay, 10,000 Islands, St. Lucie Estuary, and Lake Okeechobee.
To advance Everglades restoration, Congress authorized the Indian River Lagoon, Picayune Strand, and Site 1 Impoundment, all components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Congress also instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite completion of Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park Project, including modifications to Tamiami Trail, which has been identified as critical as Florida Bay faces impending estuarine collapse as a result of this project's delay.
"This long overdue reauthorization of key Everglades projects will result in the restoration of more than 150,000 acres of wetlands habitat. Florida's birds and people could not be more pleased," said Eric Draper, deputy director of Audubon of Florida.
MISSISSIPPI RIVER RESTORATION: $1.7 Billion
The Mississippi River flows through the heartland of America and is arguably the nation's most important – and neglected – ecological resource. The river faces enormous environmental challenges throughout the entire waterway that endanger both critical habitat and human livelihoods. The Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program WRDA authorizes, in its first 15-year increment, will restore 105,000 acres of habitat, protect 35,000 acres of floodplain habitat in five states along the river, and will include a significant monitoring program.
By restoring islands, backwaters, side channels, and using the existing dams to manage water levels, this program will benefit more than 300 bird species, 100 fish species, and improve habitat along more than 800 miles of river, including a complex of federal refuges receiving more than 3 million visitors annually.
"This bill will enable us to continue to significantly ramp and build upon 20 years of habitat restoration along 866 miles of the Upper Mississippi River in five states. It is the tipping point that will change the focus from river degradation to river restoration," said Dan McGuiness, Audubon's Director for the Upper Mississippi River Campaign.
COASTAL LOUISIANA RESTORATION: $1.9 Billion
The Louisiana coastline is disappearing as coastal wetlands erode at an alarming rate (more than 1.2 million acres since 1930), with devastating effects to the region's quality of life. The Coastal Louisiana Restoration program will begin to reverse this devastating pattern of land loss, protecting important habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife, as well as the region's economy and quality of life. To begin this crucial restoration, Congress has authorized the Coastal Louisiana Ecosystem Program and its individual projects.
"This compromise is a real step forward for the Louisiana Coastal ecosystem restoration and hurricane protection – and not a moment too soon," said Dr. Paul Kemp, Vice President for Audubon's Gulf Coast Initiative.
GREAT LAKES RESTORATION: $25 million
More than 35 million Americans depend on the Great Lakes for their quality of life. As the largest source of fresh surface water in the hemisphere, the region's thriving fisheries, important bird life, working farms, and vibrant tourism depend on the health of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes face imminent threat from sewage contaminating drinking water and fish and closing beaches, invasive exotic species destroying native wildlife populations and habitat (e.g., zebra mussel), and disappearing wetlands that buffer and clean the lakes. To begin the important work of restoration, as we await the comprehensive Great Lakes Restoration Plan legislation, Congress has directed the Army Corps to upgrade and make permanent the barriers to invasive exotic species.
"From the Great Lakes to Long Island Sound, WRDA is extremely important for the restoration and future protection of important coastal ecosystems in New York and the entire Great Lakes region." Albert E. Caccese, Executive Director, Audubon New York.
RIO SALADO OESTE: $166 Million
The Salt River originates in the Apache Highlands of Arizona, coursing past the cliff aeries of desert nesting bald eagles. Over the century, as upstream reservoir projects were implemented, the portion of the Salt River running through greater Phoenix area disappeared under the hot desert sands as the floodway became constricted by urban development. Once considered useful only as a dumping ground for human refuse and a source of sand and gravel, the Salt River, like the Phoenix bird of myth, is flowing with new life. The City of Phoenix has already reclaimed nearly six hundred acres of the river bed, restoring it as a natural riparian habitat where Audubon will soon open its Río Salado Audubon Center.
Río Oeste is the next phase of this habitat restoration / flood control project, which will eventually connect with Tres Ríos Wetlands, a multi-governmental project. By restoring native riparian habitats to its urban core, Phoenix is becoming an attractive destination for neotropical migrants, waterbirds and native Sonoran wildlife, and the humans who enjoy them.
"Oeste is the next phase in achieving the decades-old dream of ringing the Valley of the Sun with a green necklace of riparian habitat. In our increasingly urbanized environment, Río Salado Oeste will help to ensure that citizens of West Phoenix will have opportunities to connect with nature in meaningful ways." Sam Campana, Executive Director, Audubon Arizona.