Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Everglades restoration close to failure

Environmental Science & Technology: The plan to restore the Everglades at a cost of more than $10 billion is making scant progress, and vital parts of the ecosystem could be lost if the situation isn’t turned around, warns a September 29 report from the National Research Council (NRC).

The discouraging assessment comes as Florida negotiates a $1.75 billion deal to purchase 187,000 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. The land, which lies between Lake Okeechobee and Everglades National Park, could significantly help in restoration efforts, but those impacts could be a decade or more away, the report says.

Once a continuous river of grass flowing from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, the Everglades has been diked and drained to meet human demands for farmland and drinking water, the report says. Overengineering has doubled freshwater discharge to the Atlantic Ocean while slashing flows to Everglades National Park by 44%.

Recognizing that the ecosystem would eventually collapse if historic water flows were not restored, the federal government and the state of Florida launched the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in 2000. But in NRC’s second biennial review of CERP, the authors note that none of CERP’s 50 major projects have been completed, and some key projects are far behind schedule.

Efforts to restore natural water flow to Everglades National Park have been plagued for 20 years by political fights, litigation, and cost escalation. If a relatively modest proposal to modify the Tamiami Trail, a U.S. highway that blocks water flow to the park, continues to be bogged down, the outlook for CERP is dismal, the report predicts.

A white ibis in the Everglades, shot by a National Park Service employee

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