STUART — Gov. Rick Scott told a group of about 200 people dedicated to Everglades restoration Thursday evening that his own desire to restore the "River of Grass" is limited only by budget constraints.
Scott kicked off the 27th conference of the Everglades Coalition, a coalition of more than 50 government, science and nonprofit agencies involved with restoring the entire Everglades ecosystem from the Kissimmee River to the Gulf of Mexico.
He was introduced by Ed Ciampi, chairman of the Martin County Board of Commissioners, who said the governor would give his views "on how to protect the environment and how to pay for it."
Scott stepped to the podium chuckling about the "how to pay for it" part.
"It would be nice if it was easier," he said. "I wish I had a budget surplus like (former Gov.) Jeb Bush had."
Scott, who asked the state Legislature for $17 million for Everglades restoration in 2011, drew a round of applause when he noted that his budget proposal this year recommends spending $40 million.
"We've got to do everything we can to get that money," he said. "I'm optimistic we'll move the budget through the House and Senate."
Picking up on the theme of the conference, "Everglades Restoration: Worth Every Penny," Scott said the Everglades "play a critical role in Florida's economy" and noted that the state's $60 billion tourism industry and $62 billion agriculture industry are both dependent on clean water.
"The Everglades are a national treasure and a job creator," Scott said. "They really are worth every penny we spend (on restoration)."
The state already has spent more than $4 billion on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project and related projects, Scott said.
"I intend to build on the significant investment Florida has already made," he said. "I understand the importance of the Everglades, and I'm committed to seeing Everglades restoration projects through."
Water entering the Everglades is 14 times cleaner than when it leaves Lake Okeechobee, Scott said.
"But there's still more to do," he said. "We need to improve water quality, and more water needs to move south."
The conference runs through Saturday. Other speakers include Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, author and columnist Carl Hiaasen, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
For information, go to evergladescoalition.org.