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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 7 Synthesis of CERP Progress The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) is a project of grand vision and great ambition to restore the Everglades, but the project is bogged down in budgeting, planning, and procedural matters and is making only scant progress toward achieving its goals. Meanwhile, the ecosystems that it is intended to save are in peril. In this chapter, the committee synthesizes its evaluation of the CERP by standing back from the details and outlining in the broadest terms the reason for these critical conclusions. The chapter begins with science and engineering issues, followed by a summary of the management and policy issues that affect restoration progress. It concludes with the committee’s assessment of what is needed in the near future to reverse unfavorable trends and achieve effective restoration. This chapter has three major points: (1) the condition of the Everglades ecosystem is declining; (2) the CERP is entangled in procedural matters involving federal approval of projects and lacks consistent infusions of financial support from the federal government; and (3) without rapid implementation of the projects with the greatest potential for Everglades restoration, the opportunity for meaningful restoration may be permanently lost. The South Florida ecosystem at certain times and places has too much water, and at others it has too little. From its inception, the primary goal of the CERP has been to “get the water right,” under the presumption that if water controls could adequately replicate pre-drainage hydrology in the remnant Everglades, a sustainable and functioning ecosystem would follow. Getting the water right, however, is not as simple as it sounds. There are formidable water-related issues that remain unresolved in the restoration effort, including where and how some of that water should be stored, transported, and delivered, and when such deliveries should occur. The magnitude, duration, frequency, and timing of flows are all keys to a functioning, sustainable restored ecosystem, but managers are still experimenting with how these hydrologic characteristics might best lead to
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 restoration. Getting the water right also has important social dimensions (e.g., water supply, flood control) that may or may not work in concert with improving environmental conditions. In addition to water quantity, water quality is also a continuing issue in Everglades restoration. Excess phosphorus is the contaminant of greatest concern, with continuing inputs from some agricultural areas in the Everglades watershed. Although these contributions of phosphorus are less than they would have been without the tremendous effort on the part of the state of Florida to create vast stormwater treatment areas (STAs), phosphorus concentrations in the waters of the South Florida ecosystem remain at unhealthy levels for its native plant communities. High phosphorus concentrations in Lake Okeechobee also limit the volume of water that can be moved south into the Everglades ecosystem, and phosphorus-laden sediments are likely to be a continuing source of contamination for several decades. Successful restoration of the Everglades depends upon consideration of the many interconnected parts of this extensive and integrated watershed. If water quantity or quality is altered in the Kissimmee River, the effects of the change are transmitted to Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and their estuaries on the east and west coasts, and to the remnant Everglades ecosystem, including Everglades National Park far to the south. Similarly, decisions about the planning and funding of individual projects in the CERP affect not only the individual projects but also distant components of the system. Given current fiscal constraints, funds spent in one location may imply less funding for other locations. These circumstances necessitate clear restoration priorities and a system-wide vision for restoration. Continuation of the current piecemeal approach to planning, authorizing, and funding CERP projects will make successful restoration unlikely. CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF THE NATURAL SYSTEM The creation of the CERP plan in the late 1990s was a response to a broad recognition among the public, interest groups, governmental managers, and state and national legislators that the Everglades ecosystem was in serious decline. Today, as described in Chapter 2, the decline continues, so that failure to press forward with restoration results in additional deterioration to the natural system. To do nothing is, in fact, to do harm. The nation risks losing some populations of iconic wildlife associated with the Everglades. Populations of some bird species, including the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and the snail kite, are at risk. Wading birds have redistributed themselves to new locations outside their former ranges that included Everglades National Park, one of the jewels of the national park
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 system. Native species struggle to compete with a daunting array of exotic invasive species, and releases of new exotic and invasive species into the Everglades continue unabated. Even basic functional components of the Everglades landscape are in jeopardy because dikes, levees, and roadway embankments have eliminated sheet flow from many critical areas of the Everglades: the tree islands that dot the River of Grass have declined in number and area during the 20th century, and the ridge and slough topography is gradually degrading. Resolving these issues will require major restoration actions that attempt to reverse the impacts of development and decades of hydrologic alterations and water management that did not focus primarily on the Everglades ecosystem. A sense of urgency in the need to move forward quickly with the CERP is partly a product of concern about the declining ecosystem and its lack of resiliency, but two other forces further reinforce the need for prompt action: escalating costs and development. Costs of construction materials (particularly cement), labor, and land are all escalating in South Florida, and rising fuel costs also force increases in construction costs. Population increase in South Florida continues to produce urban sprawl, with its attending conversion of natural and agricultural landscapes into urban and suburban development. The density of settlement in the region results in increased water demands that make CERP more difficult to accomplish. The CERP was launched in 2000 in an effort to get the water right in the South Florida ecosystem and for Everglades National Park, but this project is founded upon numerous restoration projects that, although they are not formally part of the CERP, are nonetheless central to the success of the CERP in achieving its restoration goals. For example, the effort to provide more water passing under Tamiami Trail and rehydrate the northeastern portion of Everglades National Park (Mod Waters, see Chapter 4) is essential to restoring appropriate flow volumes, velocities, and water distribution in Everglades National Park and to remedying several endangered species issues (see Chapter 2). At present, the Mod Waters project remains unfinished nearly 20 years after authorization. The recently recommended Tamiami Trail alternative represents only a small step in the right direction. If the restoration goals are to be achieved, the project should be designed and perceived only as a step toward ultimate construction of a plan that provides more environmental benefits in conjunction with CERP implementation or an alternative mechanism. Progress of the CERP primarily has been made in planning and establishing the administrative framework for the restoration and its adaptive management, and a tremendous amount of effort has been put forth to date. However, natural system restoration benefits from the CERP itself are extremely limited, because no CERP construction projects have been completed. Nevertheless, in a broader context, efforts to restore the Everglades include some significant accomplish-
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 ments. The non-CERP Kissimmee River restoration project in the Northern Everglades has re-created some of the basic terrain elements of a meandering river connected to its flood plain through occasional flooding, and the removal of a dam in its lowest reaches has improved hydrologic connectivity within the system. STAs have had success in reducing phosphorus transport into the Everglades ecosystem, and treatment areas such as these will be essential to successful restoration. Land purchases by the state of Florida have made good progress toward obtaining the necessary spaces for project components. The state’s Acceler8 program has attempted to move some projects forward. The CERP faces many challenges in achieving its objectives, including climate change, population growth, urban sprawl, and water quality. But the committee is optimistic that, given the political will, these challenges can largely be addressed by regional planning and by embracing adaptive management and scientifically informed decision making. The results of the restoration may not be exactly those that were envisioned, and some trade-offs may be necessary, but the committee expects that CERP efforts, if implemented under an effective adaptive management framework and—above all—if undertaken expeditiously, will create more resilient ecosystems that should fare better in facing future environmental stresses. SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND CERP PROGRESS Scientific knowledge is a critical foundation for decisions about the planning, design, and adaptive management of the CERP. Over the past two decades, knowledge about the Everglades ecosystem has expanded enormously, and CERP planners, engineers, and scientists now have significant data to guide the restoration. Recent research has produced substantial new knowledge, such as a more sophisticated understanding of water flow and its importance in the Everglades landscape, and this new knowledge is being employed to inform the planning process. Although much of the knowledge about Everglades functioning includes some uncertainty, this NRC committee concurs with the findings of its predecessor NRC committee: There are no gaps in knowledge or ranges of uncertainties that are large enough that they should impede CERP progress. In many cases, scientific knowledge will improve and uncertainty will decrease as project construction moves forward in an adaptive management framework. When stakeholders and agencies use uncertainties as an excuse to halt progress in contentious projects, an incremental adaptive restoration (IAR) approach, as described in NRC (2007), may help advance restoration progress while fostering learning that can help resolve project-planning conflicts and improve future project planning and design. In an IAR approach, large complex
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 projects (or a combination of multiple interrelated projects) are undertaken in increments, with each step providing substantial, measurable restoration and new learning benefits. These increments are small enough to allow completion of the step in a relatively short period of time (about 5 years or less), but large enough to provide significant restoration benefits and to supply new knowledge to inform future project planning. CERP planners are considering some applications of IAR, tailoring it to their particular needs, and their preliminary assessment is that the concept is a helpful management tool. FUNDING AND IMPLEMENTATION PROBLEMS THAT LIMIT RESTORATION PROGRESS As reported in NRC (2007), one of the major political advantages enjoyed by the CERP as it was developed was the strong and united support of South Florida stakeholders. These groups—including nongovernmental organizations, Native American tribes, and state and federal agencies—have not always agreed with one another, but they were able to reach accord on major issues concerning the direction of the CERP. In the past, this agreement could be reached because the CERP, in effect, offered something for everyone. Now the South Florida coalition is experiencing new strains. Presentations by representatives of these groups to this committee indicate that slow-to-develop funding from the federal government and cost escalations have led to a well-grounded fear that the CERP may not be completed as envisioned, which is leading to new tensions among stakeholders. Recognition is dawning that some CERP projects and outcomes may be left out and that some stakeholder groups might not get what they wanted from the project. This is already the case with the Regional Water Availability Rule, which places increased responsibility on cities to find new water supplies to meet growing needs and to protect water for the environment. Mod Waters (see Chapter 4) is another example of a project with objectives sharply compromised by cost escalations and the imposition of a budget constraint. The maintenance of the stakeholder coalition is a key to the achievement of CERP’s restoration goals, and CERP planners will need to invest more effort in maintaining common goals for the overall project. Although lack of timely restoration progress by the CERP, to date, has been largely due to the complex federal planning process and the need to resolve conflicts among stakeholders, future progress is likely to be limited by the availability of funding and an authorization and funding mechanism that was not designed for a project of this magnitude and complexity and seems ill suited for it (see Chapter 3). When the CERP was initiated in 2000, restoration planners anticipated that the U.S. Congress would provide project authorization through
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 Water Resource Development Acts (WRDAs) every 2 years, with funding to follow in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) appropriations bills. In fact, WRDAs emerged only in 2000 and 2007. Another 7-year hiatus until the next WRDA bill would be potentially devastating to restoration progress. Only three CERP projects (Picayune Strand, Site 1 Impoundment, and Indian River Lagoon) have been authorized to date (beyond those projects conditionally authorized in WRDA 1999 and 2000), and only authorized CERP projects with approved project implementation reports (PIRs) can receive federal appropriations. In periods of restricted funding and limited capability to move forward on many fronts for restoration, the ability to set priorities and implement them is critical. Yet, restoration priorities have not been established. The latest project schedule is already out of date given current project progress and availability of funding, although a revised implementation schedule is in development. In addition, the present project authorization and funding system lacks consideration of the restoration effort as a whole. Three projects have survived the rigorous project approval and authorization process, and each of these three projects will provide restoration benefits. However, the committee has seen no systematic analysis showing that they provide the greatest restoration benefits for the natural system or that they deserve the highest priority for funding compared to other components. Instead, they are minimally contentious projects with the strongest stakeholder support. As a result, in the years ahead, CERP planners may be forced to choose between using limited available federal funds on authorized projects and conserving federal funds for higher-priority projects that may not be authorized for years to come. Meanwhile, Florida has aggressively funded CERP projects, so that what was envisioned as a state-federal partnership has become highly unequal. Because Florida is providing funding through land acquisition, Acceler8, and its Northern Everglades initiative, state objectives (particularly improving the condition of Lake Okeechobee and the northern estuaries) are likely to be achieved faster than restoration to benefit areas with stronger federal interests, such as Everglades National Park. And as delays in construction continue, costs increase, which potentially leave the federal government with an even greater funding burden. Program management processes should support an efficient process of designing, planning, and implementing individual components of the CERP, but sometimes these processes are instead impediments to progress. Congressionally mandated procedures for USACE were designed for administering individual projects, but the CERP is a conglomeration of more than 60 components, all designed to operate within an integrated system. As a result, project teams plan and implement components one at a time without following the logical dictates
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 that derive from recognition of the interconnectedness of these projects with each other or with an overall watershed or ecosystem. Meaningful assessments of project benefits in such a complex system (i.e., next added increment) cannot be done one piece at a time. As a result, new program management, decision-making, and funding approaches are needed to support more timely completion of the CERP (see Chapter 3). There is considerable frustration about the administrative process among managers, decision makers, and researchers in South Florida. To many of them, it appears that planning rather than doing, reporting rather than constructing, and administering rather than restoring are consuming their talents and time. Improved federal and state procedures that recognize the interconnected nature of the components of the CERP and allow meaningful priorities to be implemented (see Chapter 3) will reinvigorate the restoration mission and its most important personnel. THE CERP AND THE PUBLIC The general public is cognizant of the poor condition of Everglades National Park, and many understand that degraded habitats exist far upstream of the park, throughout South Florida. Regardless of citizens’ specific expectations, it is essential to demonstrate some restoration progress to sustain the public’s support. Restoration is expensive and time-consuming, and the scale of Everglades restoration is so large and complex that it will require decades for completion even under the most-efficient circumstances. Demonstrable restoration progress has been lacking, and without such progress, regional and national support for the initiative may falter. Strong political leadership is essential to support and maintain restoration progress. Elected officials and agency leaders can strengthen public support for this important mission. Every participating party will not obtain its desired objectives completely, but strong restoration leadership could harness the collective support for restoration progress to work through the difficult decisions that have to be made. Strong restoration leadership can also identify impediments to effective restoration, such as unclear priorities and episodic funding, and develop programmatic solutions to improve restoration progress. Without such leadership, the CERP will face substantial additional delays, risking the loss of public confidence and support and leaving a treasured ecosystem to continue its perilous decline.
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Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review - 2008 CONCLUSIONS If the sweeping vision of environmental restoration of the Everglades is to be realized, demonstrable progress must come soon. Heretofore, management of the Everglades has resulted in its diminution, and the CERP has not, to date, been effective in halting the decline of the South Florida ecosystem. If the CERP continues on its present course at its current pace, the ecosystem will continue to lose its resiliency, which could lead to rapid and deleterious changes that might be very difficult or impossible to reverse, and more importantly, the restoration effort will lose the support of the public at large. Clear funding priorities, modifications to the project planning, authorization, and funding process to support system-wide restoration goals, and strong leadership are needed to move the restoration forward and begin to reverse the decades of decline. To do nothing is to do harm. To find ways to press forward with the CERP is a statement by this generation to future generations that we accept responsibility for the restoration of the Everglades as one of the nation’s priceless ecological treasures.