6
Findings and Recommendations

The restoration effort is associated with ecological and engineering uncertainties of several kinds that make unanticipated outcomes highly likely. Especially problematic is the potential for irreversible changes to the ecosystem to occur long before all phases of the Restoration Plan are implemented. Such changes include further expansion of invasive and irruptive plant and animal species, further erosion of the distinctive ridge and slough topography that once characterized large portions of the Everglades, continued loss of tree islands, disappearance of the communities of marl prairies and periphyton mats unique to the Everglades, loss of endangered species, expansion of areas with nutrient loading rates above historic levels, and expansion of areas with high mercury methylation rates. The overall effect of these changes will be homogenization of the landscape in which the mosaic of different community types that constitute the Everglades will be compromised. It is this mosaic that allowed the system to adjust to both short- and long-term changes in hydrology and periodic fires.

While it is clear that such irreversible changes could occur through processes already set in motion by previous alterations to the system, considerable uncertainty surrounds the relationship between implementation of the Restoration Plan and the rates at which specific changes to the ecosystem will occur. Of central concern are uncertainties in the relationships between hydrologic targets and ecological targets. In addition, regional changes in temperature and in the amount and variability of precipitation—factors that drive hydrology and fire regimes in the Everglades—will occur within the time-frame of the restoration and introduce greater uncertainty into the models under which the Restoration Plan will be implemented. The rise in mean sea level predicted to occur with climate change will have profound effects on the Everglades and much of south Florida. There also are uncertainties associated with the efficacy and costs of the various storage options, especially ASR, lake-belt storage, and wastewater reuse.

All these uncertainties emphasize the need for contingency planning, analysis of tradeoffs, carefully designed pilot studies, and flexibility in implementing the program (adaptive management). More specific major findings and recommendations follow. Additional suggestions are in the individual chapters.

  • Finding 1. The historic resilience of the ecosystem was a direct consequence of the continuity and the diverse mosaic of natural system communities found over a wide range of spatial scales. As the spatial extent of the ecosystem is reduced, the resiliency of the system is reduced and susceptibility to unexpected and irreversible change is increased. Although a considerable amount of money ($100-200 million annually) is allocated to



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Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities 6 Findings and Recommendations The restoration effort is associated with ecological and engineering uncertainties of several kinds that make unanticipated outcomes highly likely. Especially problematic is the potential for irreversible changes to the ecosystem to occur long before all phases of the Restoration Plan are implemented. Such changes include further expansion of invasive and irruptive plant and animal species, further erosion of the distinctive ridge and slough topography that once characterized large portions of the Everglades, continued loss of tree islands, disappearance of the communities of marl prairies and periphyton mats unique to the Everglades, loss of endangered species, expansion of areas with nutrient loading rates above historic levels, and expansion of areas with high mercury methylation rates. The overall effect of these changes will be homogenization of the landscape in which the mosaic of different community types that constitute the Everglades will be compromised. It is this mosaic that allowed the system to adjust to both short- and long-term changes in hydrology and periodic fires. While it is clear that such irreversible changes could occur through processes already set in motion by previous alterations to the system, considerable uncertainty surrounds the relationship between implementation of the Restoration Plan and the rates at which specific changes to the ecosystem will occur. Of central concern are uncertainties in the relationships between hydrologic targets and ecological targets. In addition, regional changes in temperature and in the amount and variability of precipitation—factors that drive hydrology and fire regimes in the Everglades—will occur within the time-frame of the restoration and introduce greater uncertainty into the models under which the Restoration Plan will be implemented. The rise in mean sea level predicted to occur with climate change will have profound effects on the Everglades and much of south Florida. There also are uncertainties associated with the efficacy and costs of the various storage options, especially ASR, lake-belt storage, and wastewater reuse. All these uncertainties emphasize the need for contingency planning, analysis of tradeoffs, carefully designed pilot studies, and flexibility in implementing the program (adaptive management). More specific major findings and recommendations follow. Additional suggestions are in the individual chapters. Finding 1. The historic resilience of the ecosystem was a direct consequence of the continuity and the diverse mosaic of natural system communities found over a wide range of spatial scales. As the spatial extent of the ecosystem is reduced, the resiliency of the system is reduced and susceptibility to unexpected and irreversible change is increased. Although a considerable amount of money ($100-200 million annually) is allocated to

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Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities land acquisition, it seems certain that some land not soon acquired will be developed or become significantly more expensive before the two-decade acquisition program can be completed. Protecting the potential for restoration, i.e., protecting the land, is essential for successful restoration. Recommendation 1. Preservation of the remaining areal extent of the potential natural system should be a priority. Land should be purchased or conservation easements should be obtained now to prevent additional loss of land to development and to provide a buffer between the built and natural environments. (Chapter 3.) Finding 2. A restoration as ambitious and complex as the Everglades Restoration Plan has the potential to allow–and perhaps even cause–irreversible changes to the Everglades ecosystem as it proceeds. Some processes of deterioration might continue to an undesirable endpoint before the restoration is complete, and in some cases, it is possible that an intermediate stage between current conditions and the restoration goal could result in additional damage. Recommendation 2. Efforts should be made to prevent irreparable damage to the ecosystem during the restoration. The focus should be on interim changes in the system as well as the end point of the restoration to avoid losses in the short-term that will prevent ecosystem restoration in the long term. (Chapter 3.) Finding 3. Some aspects of the restoration are likely to benefit the target ecosystem components while adversely affecting others, at least until the restoration is completed. In other cases, finite resources and other factors are likely to lead to differing restoration goals for different parts of the ecosystem and among different stakeholders. Recommendation 3. Methods should be developed to allow tradeoffs to be assessed over broad spatial and long temporal scales, especially for the entire ecosystem. Development of methods now, such as the system performance indicator described in Chapter 5, will allow alternatives to be tested quickly and modifications to the restoration to be developed when surprises do occur. (Chapters 3, 4, and 5.) Finding 4. It is likely that some components of the Restoration Plan will be more costly or less effective than envisioned. The high degree of uncertainty associated with all phases (economic, social, political, engineering, and ecological) of the Restoration Plan necessitates the allocation of significant effort to establishment of alternative approaches to restoration (contingency planning). Even if the Restoration Plan “gets the water right,” there are circumstances that might prevent restoration of the Everglades to the conditions envisioned by the plan. The multi-species recovery plan, efforts to eradicate invasive species, changes in water-quality legislation, and many other factors may have major influences on the restoration effort. Recommendation 4. In addition to the contingency planning that already is being undertaken, more intensive and extensive planning should be pursued. In particular, options such as those discussed in Chapter 4 should be considered for using the Everglades Agricultural Area and Lake Okeechobee as elements of the Restoration Plan in ways that are not now part of the plan. Any such change in the use of EAA and Lake Okeechobee should be undertaken using adaptive management, and it has the potential to bring ecological benefits earlier. (Chapter 4.)

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Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities Finding 5. A variety of economic, political, financial, engineering, and other factors and constraints have resulted in a restoration plan that provides most of its ecological benefits towards the end of the process. Some of that delay is unavoidable, because some engineering structures must be in place before other elements of the plan can be implemented. However, the longer the provision of such benefits is delayed, the more likely that continued degradation will occur, that loss of species and habitats will continue, and that at least some political support will be lost as well. These factors argue for increased emphasis on ecological results earlier in the plan. Recommendation 5. Restoration projects should be implemented in a way that provides benefits to the natural system sooner rather than later by accelerating storage projects that are not as reliant on technology or use short-term storage solutions to achieve benefits to the natural system until more technologically advanced methods are proven. An example of such a benefit to the natural system would be providing more natural flows (in terms of seasonal timing, volume, and flow velocity) to Everglades National Park. Doing so might not require large-scale changes in sequencing; instead, incremental changes could add up to be significant. Immediate action should be taken to identify interim ecological goals for the restoration that can be achieved in the near-term. Interim ecological goals should include preventing changes to the system that may be irreversible in a 50-100 year time frame. Of particular concern are losses of endangered species, expansion of the zones of increased nutrient loading that have shifted parts of the Everglades from oligotrophic to eutrophic systems with associated reductions in species distributions and losses of habitats, and degradation of the underlying topography that has supported the development of the rich mosaic of communities and habitats that is the essence of the Everglades system and maintains its overall resilience in the face of its natural hydrologic variability. (Chapter 3.) Finding 6. Many projects that will contribute to or otherwise affect the restoration of the Everglades are not part of the Restoration Plan. To the degree that there is coordination or at least communication among those projects, benefits of economy and of effectiveness are likely. Recommendation 6. Coordination and communication among the various restoration efforts should continue to receive high priority. (Chapter 3.) Finding 7. Considering the 40-year time frame of the Restoration Plan and perhaps a century of system response, a regional information synthesis center would enable the systematic provision of evolving, reliable knowledge in support of the policy process and the interested public who affect and are affected by the program. Such a center also would help implement adaptive management on a system wide basis. Recommendation 7. Incorporate integrated assessment models, long-range-development scenarios, and a regional information-synthesis center into an adaptive-management and assessment program in the Restoration Plan. Monitoring is an essential part of adaptive management, and models have the potential to help design, assess, and evaluate the results of monitoring programs. (Chapter 3.)