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U.S. Senate approves Everglades restoration plan

The U.S. Senate passed a wide-sweeping water bill Thursday that includes $1.9 billion for Everglades restoration projects.

The Senate approved the $10 billion water projects bill 95-3, with both Sens. Bill Nelson andMarco Rubio supporting the proposal. The measure authorizes 29 projects in 18 states for dredging, flood control, and other projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Central Everglades Planning Project was among the projects included in the bill. It includes a series of engineering projects designed to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

“This is a big win for Florida,” said Nelson in a statement Thursday. “We’ve seen firsthand the effect these toxic discharges can have on Florida’s waterways and the local communities that depend on them. Getting this project approved is a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to restore the Everglades and provide folks some much-needed relief.”

Algae blooms clogged South Florida waterways earlier this year, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee, and Palm Beach counties in June. The executive order allowed state and local governments to take action to slow the spread of algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The blooms have largely been blamed on increased discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water earlier this year, after a wetter-than-normal January.

“Getting this Central Everglades Planning Project passed has been many years in the making, but it has taken on added urgency this year because of the toxic algae that is hurting our state,” said Rubio in a statement. “This Everglades project is one piece of the puzzle to dealing with the toxic algae, and we have more work to continue doing on that front.”

The water bill also included $322.7 million for Port Everglades dredging; $30.78 million for the Flagler County hurricane and storm damage reduction project; $113 million for the Picayune Strand restoration project; and authorizes the Army Corp of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study for the Daytona Beach flood protection project.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.