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Re-Engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities
BOX ES-1 Committee Statement of Task
This NRC activity (CROGEE) provides scientific guidance to multiple agencies (the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, or SFERTF) charged with restoration and preservation of the Central and South Florida aquatic ecosystem, i.e., the greater Everglades. The activity provides a scientific overview and technical assessment of the many complicated, interrelated activities and plans that are occurring at the federal, state, and nongovernmental levels. In addition to strategic assessments and guidance, the NRC provides more focused advice on technical topics of importance to the restoration efforts when appropriate.
A major feature of the restoration plan is providing enough water storage capacity to meet human needs while also providing the needs of the greater Everglades ecosystem. One of the primary assumptions of the restoration effort has been that “getting the water right” is the most important single factor leading to sustainable ecologic restoration. Given the importance of storage to the restoration effort the CROGEE, with the SFERTF endorsement and cooperation, undertook a review of hydrologic and ecological analysis and other considerations with respect to analysis of size and location of water storage components proposed in the Restudy.
Early modifications to the landscape drained many areas and increased peak flows in others. Overall, they reduced the amount of water stored within the Everglades Ecosystem and thus increased the risk of desiccation of wetlands in the southern part of the system during droughts. However, at the same time, these modifications increased the risk of flooding in many areas. For all those reasons, many control structures such as levees and canals were built, and the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) were created. The result is that parts of the Everglades are water-starved at times, other parts are submerged, and the natural timing and amplitudes of high-water and drying events have been severely disrupted. Large pulses of fresh water diverted to sea have also had detrimental effects on estuaries. As a result, the Restoration Plan includes large amounts of new, constructed storage to replace lost natural storage and supply the water that is needed for both people and the ecosystem when and where it is currently in shortest supply.
It is not clear exactly what ecological conditions will accompany hydrologic change, but there is merit in concluding that more natural hydrologic conditions will lead to improved ecosystem functioning. Thus attempting to “get the water right” (or at least better) is a reasonable approach to restoration.
MAJOR STORAGE AND WATER-CONSERVATION COMPONENTS IN THE RESTORATION PLAN
The major aspects of the Restoration Plan involve currently available and planned storage facilities. The largest existing storage components are Lake Okeechobee and the WCAs. Additional components are in place or planned for the completed Restoration Plan.