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Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities
In its several previous reports, the NRC has provided scientific and technical advice about aquifer storage and recovery (NRC, 2001a), regional issues in aquifer storage and recovery (NRC, 2002a), research programs in Florida Bay (NRC, 2002b), the planning and organization of science (NRC, 2003a), adaptive monitoring and assessment (NRC, 2003b), and the importance of water flow in shaping the Everglades landscapes (NRC, 2003c).
THE EVERGLADES ECOSYSTEM
Florida’s Everglades, often referred to as the splendid River of Grass, is a rich and unique ecosystem. Shaped by the flow of slow-moving water, its flourishing landscape of sawgrass plains, ridges, sloughs and tree islands is a home to alligators, many kinds of wading birds, and other plant and animal life, some of which is found in few or no other locations. By the mid-twentieth century, a vast network of canals and levees, built to drain water for flood control, water supply, agriculture, and urban development, had profoundly altered the region’s wetlands and reduced the Everglades to half its original size. Today, the wading bird population has sharply declined, and 70 plant and animal species in South Florida are threatened or endangered. Throughout the past century, the Everglades has epitomized the American conflict between economic development and environmental conservation. In recent years, the governmental agencies and the people in the region have embraced the challenge of protecting and restoring native species and ecosystems while still meeting human needs for space and natural resources.
Restoration of the Everglades is a daunting task. It is extremely complicated for several reasons. First, the Greater Everglades ecosystem is huge, stretching from the Kissimmee River drainage basin to Florida Bay and adjoining coral reefs (see Figure 1-1). Second, the Restoration Plan must attempt to balance the interests of many stakeholders. Third, restoration goals must consider and resolve the complex and often competing needs of different plant and animal species. Fourth, the plan must be robust in the face of unknown factors such as future climate change and urban population growth. Finally, and perhaps most important, there are competing visions of what will constitute successful restoration.
Since 1993, a coalition of local, state, and federal agencies, as well as non-government organizations, local tribes, and citizens, has been working to reverse the damage to the Everglades. The effort is led by two organizations that have considerable expertise regarding the water resources of south Florida—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which built most of the canals and levees in the Everglades, and the South Florida Water Management District, which has primary responsibility for operating and maintaining this complicated water collection and distribution system. In 1999, the USACE issued its blueprint for the restoration effort, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (the Restoration Plan). The plan, which was approved by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, seeks to “get the water right”—that is, to deliver the right amount and quality of water to the right places at the right times. The plan proposes more than 50 major projects to be constructed over an estimated 36 years at a cost of approximately $7.8 billion.2
All costs, including construction, real-state, and operations and maintenance costs, are in 1999 dollars. See Appendix A for list and schedule of projects.