Gov. Rick Scott (Pic via flgov.com)

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Gov. Rick Scott, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and Everglades Foundation chairman Paul Jones were the final panelists to speak during the Everglades Water Supply Summit, which kicked off today. Below, some of the highlights from their conversation with moderator Chuck Todd.

On the importance of water conservation:

Salazar, calling the Everglades a “crown jewel” for America, called the pathway to restoration, and Scott’s recent proposal of $40 million for Everglades restoration in the budget, a good start. “I think the future is bright,” he said.

Though he called Scott a “change agent” for Everglades restoration, Jones said the area could use even more funding. “We have so many shovel-ready projects,” said Jones. “We could take $1 billion from your budget.”

“During the ’90s and the first part of this decade, [there was] a huge amount of talking, but not a whole lot of activity,” he said. ”Now we’re seeing the ground being broken on a lot of projects.”

“[Restoration] is good for business, good for real estate values,” Scott said, adding that it needs to be done in “a cost-effective manner that uses logical science.”

“I think what weve got to do is, whether the number is $40 million or $200 million,” Scott said, “we’ve got to spend the money well. We all want to get this done, as cost-effective and as quickly as we can. Whatever we do, we have to constantly measure to make sure that it works.”

On the approval of a Tamiami Trail project (which currently has no funding):

“It’s a bifurcated process,” said Putnam, who played a key role in getting the project approved. “You have to get the plan authorized … then get the money to get it funded. It’s sort of a bait and switch. Having said that, I dont want to diminish the importance of [its approval]. … It’s in the queue, so that eventually the money will be available.”

On Florida’s python problem:

“Snakes are injurious and they are dangerous,” Salazar said. “All of this great work we’ve been doing on the Everglades … we need to make sure that the investments we’re making are not for nought. The wildlife of the Everglades’ most treasured symbols … and [Burmese pythons are] out there killing the native habitat.”

Putnam concurred, adding that it isn’t just Burmese pythons that are an issue. “The python issue is the most glamorous problem, but there are thousands of these things,” he said, citing other creatures like giant snails that are making their mark on Florida habitats.

On industry’s impact on the Everglades:

Putnam defended the impact of the agricultural industry, arguing that the Florida Forever Act has led to a vast majority of farms implementing best management practices. “Frankly, they’re running ahead of where the government is,” he said.

He and Jones sparred a bit over the sugar industry, however, with Jones arguing that, although the industry has made strides, more needs to be done.

“Do you really think you’ll buy up everything south of Okeechobee?” asked Putnam.

“No one is advocating that,” said Jones. “We’re looking for more equitable treatment, more fairness.”

“I’m saying, when you’ve got an industry that clearly has enormous private margins … maybe the highest enjoyed by any agricultural practice in the United States, there’s room for give,” said Jones. “There’s a saying … ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ The problem that we’ve had is that there are no fences. We, as America’s taxpayers, our home is Everglades National Park. That’s our property. … Imagine if your neighbor dumped his trash in the yard, that’s a sign of disrespect. And then he only cleaned up 70 percent, and left 30 percent. … Man’s intrusion into that environment is clearly going to cost each of us.”

On over-development:

“There’s plenty of places in Florida that could be developed, that would have no adverse effect on the environment,” said Scott. “Tourism is up almost 100 percent in some counties along the Panhandle. … There is so much discussion now, it’s so much more transparent, all of us that are in these positions, it’s exciting. Better things are happening with development now.”

On privatizing the water supply:

Scott was hesitant to speak out on legislation written to incentivize the use of reclaimed water by privatizing it. “I think it’s something right now that we need to put more study into,” said Scott. “Right now, it requires a lot more study.”

But Putnam spoke in favor of such efforts. “It’s essentially water-farming. … It’s costing you a lot less per million gallons of reclaimed water than it would to build a giant reservoir. … That’s nothing like privatizing or commoditizing water,” he said. “That’s a different way of accomplishing an environmental goal at a lower price.”

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