Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Everglades restoration grows in urgency as climate warms

Environment News Service: Global warming means restoration of the Everglades is more important than ever, a University of Miami expert in coastal marine environments told hundreds of conservationists, scientists and state and federal leaders at the Everglades Coalition's annual conference on the weekend.

Dr. Harold Wanless said recreating enough of the natural flow of water to the 2.4 million-acre marsh to rebuild its eroded peatlands could hold back salt water intrusion from rising sea levels and protect South Florida's drinking water supply. Wanless said how much time the Everglades has left is unclear. He pointed to conservative estimates that predict a two foot increase in sea levels by 2100, but cited other studies that indicate the rise could amount to 20 feet by 2200, which would submerge all of South Florida.

Florida's Congressional delegation won praise from Governor Charlie Crist for working to authorize new projects to restore the Everglades. But the governor reminded federal lawmakers that Congress has not yet appropriated the funds necessary to actually carry out the Everglades restoration projects.

Opening the conference, Governor Crist, a Republican, said he is committed to working with Florida's Congressional delegation to seek full authorization and funding for the completion of the Modified Water Deliveries Project, which includes improvements to Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County in south Florida.

The selected plan for Tamiami Trail is a two-mile bridge west and one-mile bridge east. The bridges will allow more natural water flows under the road and into Everglades National Park. Authorized in 1989, this federal restoration project was originally estimated to cost $83 million. But lack of funding, design changes and construction requirements have resulted in cost escalations to $398 million. Now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is projecting that the improvements could cost as much as $600 million due to rising real estate and construction prices….

…"Florida has taken creative and innovative approaches to expedite our restoration efforts," Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole told conference delegates. "Just this year, the state expanded its restoration efforts to the northern extent of the ecosystem and extended a dedicated trust fund through 2020 to set aside another $2.3 billion for restoration," he said. The Save Our Everglades Trust Fund was extended for 10 years through 2020. "Continuing forward on this massive restoration project will take cooperation, partnership and a united message from all of our partners," said Sole.

…The Florida Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Significance under the Ramsar Treaty, a National Park, and an Outstanding Florida Water. The largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, it is the only subtropical preserve on the North American continent.

The Everglades is often called the River of Grass. (Photo by SFWMD)

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