Everglades Report

Bren Professor and National Research Council Colleagues to Congress: "Everglades Are in Peril."

After the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars over the past eight years, some parts of the Everglades are still facing ecological collapse. That is the conclusion of Bren Professor Frank Davis and 15 co-authors, all members of the National Reseach Council’s Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress. Their findings were published this week in a summary report titled “Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades,” which has been sent to the U.S. Congress for review.

The report examines the progress made as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), launched in 2000 as a joint effort between the state of Florida and the federal government “to reverse the decline of the Everglades ecosystem.”

A major thrust of the work was to address problems arising from “drastic changes to the landscape" resulting from "an extensive water control infrastructure designed to improve flood control and provide urban and agricultural water supply.” That water-control system, write the authors, “has drastically altered the flow of water that shaped the ecosystem, changing the landscape of the entire Everglades area. Remnants of the original Everglades now compete for vital water with these urban and agricultural interests, and contaminated runoff further impairs the ecosystem.”

The researchers conclude that CERP “is making only scant progress toward achieving restoration goals," and that "the project is bogged down in budgeting, planning, and procedural matters while the ecosystem that it was created to save is in peril.”

"Yes, our committee judged progress in the restoration to be scant and slow," said Frank Davis on Sept. 30 from his Bren Hall office. "This is not to say that they are not making some progress in south Florida. For example, the state has acquired 217,000 acres of land (about half of the land needed) for the restoration, and 34,000 acres of wetlands have been created for water-quality improvement. But eight years into the restoration, the federal government has been slow to provide funds, none of the key restoration projects has been completed, and nearly all projects are facing significant delays and cost overruns. In the meantime, the condition of the Everglades continues to deteriorate.

"The delays are not the fault of bad science," he adds. "In fact, the science underpinning the restoration is exceptionally strong. Part of the problem is an overly complex federal planning and approval process. Stakeholder concerns and litigation have also caused significant delays."

Davis had several suggestions for moving forward more effectively. "Among other things, Congress could work with the Army Corp of Engineers to retool their planning and implementation process. The programmatic regulations that guide the restoration can be revised to expedite construction and adaptive management of high-priority projects. The Fish and Wildlife Service could work with state and federal partners to create a real multi-species management plan for the multiple species at risk in south Florida, whcih would ease the risk of endangered species conflicts as the project is built."

The scale and scope of the plan itself may also have caused some problems. "In my opinion, the original plan was over-engineered and perhaps unrealistically large and expensive," Davis said. "Some targets, notably those for reducing phosphorus pollution in Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, were probably unrealistic in the short term. But the problems afflicting the Everglades are pretty well understood, and many components of the restoration are well conceived. Importantly, they have dealt with scientific and engineering uncertainties by designing a good set of pilot studies where needed and a sophisticated program of adaptive motoring and management. That makes the delays all the more frustrating."

 

Click here to read the complete report.