The Florida Everglades, formerly a large and diverse aquatic ecosystem, has been dramatically altered over the past century by an extensive water control infrastructure designed to increase regional economic productivity through improved flood control, urban water supply, and agricultural production (Davis and Ogden, 1994; NRC, 2005). Shaped by the slow flow of water, its vast terrain of sawgrass plains, ridges, sloughs, and tree islands used to support a high diversity of plant and animal life. This natural landscape also served as a sanctuary for Native Americans. However, large-scale changes to the landscape have diminished the natural resources, and by the mid- to late-20th century, many of the area’s defining natural characteristics had been lost. The remnants of the original Everglades (see Figure 1-1 and Box 1-1) now compete for vital water with urban and agricultural interests, and contaminated runoff from these two activities impairs the South Florida ecosystem.
Recognition of past declines in environmental quality, combined with continuing threats to the natural character of the remaining Everglades, led to initiation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in the late 1990s. This unprecedented project envisioned the expenditure of billions of dollars in a multi-decadal effort to achieve ecological restoration by reestablishing the hydrologic characteristics of the Everglades, where feasible, and to create a water system that simultaneously serves the needs of both the natural and the human systems of South Florida. Within the social, economic, and political latticework of the 21st century, restoration of the South Florida ecosystem is now under way and represents one of the most ambitious ecosystem renewal projects ever conceived. This report represents the fourth independent assessment of the CERP’s progress by the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP) of the National Research Council (NRC).
THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL AND EVERGLADES RESTORATION
The NRC has been providing scientific and technical advice related to the Everglades restoration since 1999. The NRC’s Committee on the Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem (CROGEE), which operated from 1999 until 2004, was formed at the request of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration
This box defines some key geographic terms used throughout this report.
• The Everglades, the Everglades ecosystem, or the remnant Everglades ecosystem refers to the present areas of sawgrass, marl prairie, and other wetlands and estuaries south of Lake Okeechobee (Figure 1-1b).
• The original, historical, or pre-drainage Everglades refers to the areas of sawgrass, marl prairie, and other wetlands and estuaries south of Lake Okeechobee that existed prior to the construction of drainage canals beginning in the late 1800s (Figure 1-1a).
• The Everglades watershed is the drainage that encompasses the Everglades ecosystem but also includes the Kissimmee River watershed and other smaller watersheds north of Lake Okeechobee that ultimately supply water to the Everglades ecosystem.
• The South Florida ecosystem (also known as the Greater Everglades Ecosystem; see Figure 1-2) extends from the headwaters of the Kissimmee River near Orlando through Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades into Florida Bay and ultimately the Florida Keys. The boundaries of the South Florida ecosystem are determined by the boundaries of the South Florida Water Management District, the southernmost of the state’s five water management districts, although they approximately delineate the boundaries of the South Florida watershed. This designation is important and helpful to the restoration effort because, as many publications have made clear, taking a watershed approach to ecosystem restoration is likely to improve the results, especially when the ecosystem under consideration is as water dependent as the Everglades (NRC, 1999, 2004a).
• The Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) include WCA-1 (the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge), -2A, -2B, -3A, and -3B (see Figure 1-2).
The following represent legally defined geographic terms used in this report:
• The Everglades Protection Area is defined in the Everglades Forever Act as comprising WCAs -1, -2A, -2B, -3A, and -3B and Everglades National Park.
• The natural system is legally defined in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000) as all land and water managed by the federal government or the state within the South Florida ecosystem (see Figure 1-3). “The term ‘natural system’ includes (i) water conservation areas; (ii) sovereign submerged land; (iii) Everglades National Park; (iv) Biscayne National Park; (v) Big Cypress National Preserve; (vi) other Federal or State (including a political subdivision of a State) land that is designated and managed for conservation purposes; and (vii) any tribal land that is designated and managed for conservation purposes, as approved by the tribe” (WRDA 2000).
Many maps in this report include shorthand designations that use letters and numbers for man-made additions to the South Florida ecosystem. For example, canals are labeled C-#; levees and associated borrow canals as L-#; and structures, such as culverts, locks, pumps, spillways, control gates, and weirs, as S-# or G-#.
Task Force (Task Force), an intergovernmental body established to facilitate coordination in the restoration effort, and the committee produced six reports (NRC, 2001, 2002a,b, 2003a,b, 2005). The NRC’s Panel to Review the Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative produced an additional report in 2003 (NRC, 2003c; see Appendix A). The Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000) mandated that the U.S. Department of the Army, the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the state of Florida, in consultation with the Task Force, establish an independent scientific review panel to evaluate progress toward achieving the natural system restoration goals of the CERP. The NRC’s Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress was therefore established in 2004 under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). After publication of each of the first three biennial reviews (NRC, 2007, 2008, 2010; see Appendix A for the report summaries), some members rotated off the committee and some new members were added.
The committee is charged to submit biennial reports that address the following items:
1. An assessment of progress in restoring the natural system, which is defined by section 601(a) of WRDA 2000 as all of the land and water managed by the federal government and state within the South Florida ecosystem (see Figure 1-3 and Box 1-1);
2. A discussion of significant accomplishments of the restoration;
3. A discussion and evaluation of specific scientific and engineering issues that may impact progress in achieving the natural system restoration goals of the plan; and
4. An independent review of monitoring and assessment protocols to be used for evaluation of CERP progress (e.g., CERP performance measures, annual assessment reports, assessment strategies, etc.).
Given the broad charge, the complexity of the restoration, and the continually evolving circumstances, the committee did not presume it could cover all issues that affect restoration progress in any single report. This report builds on the past reports by this committee (NRC, 2007, 2008, 2010) and emphasizes restoration progress since 2010, high-priority scientific and engineering issues that the committee judged to be relevant to this timeframe, and other issues that have impacted the pace of progress. The committee focused particularly on issues for which the “timing was right”—that is, where the committee’s advice could be useful relative to the decision-making timeframes—and on topics that had not been fully addressed in past NRC Everglades reports. Interested readers should look to past reports by this committee (NRC, 2007, 2008, 2010) to find detailed discussions of important topics, such as the human context for the CERP, climate
change, water quality and quantity challenges, Lake Okeechobee, Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, and incremental adaptive restoration, which are not repeated here. Other issues, such as the impacts of pythons on Everglades mammals (Dorcas et al., 2012), emerged too late for in-depth analysis by the committee and may be considered in future reports.
The committee met six times during the course of this review; received briefings at its public meetings from agencies, organizations, and individuals involved in the restoration, as well as from the public; and took several field trips to sites with restoration activities (see Acknowledgments) to help it evaluate restoration progress. In addition to information received at the meetings, the committee based its assessment of progress on information in relevant CERP and non-CERP restoration documents. The committee’s conclusions and recommendations also were informed by a review of relevant scientific literature and the experience and knowledge of the committee members in their fields of expertise. The committee was unable to consider in any detail new materials received after March 2012.
In Chapter 2, the committee provides an overview of the CERP in the context of other ongoing restoration activities and discusses the restoration goals that guide the overall effort. An overview of the legal context for the CERP is also provided.
In Chapter 3 the committee analyzes the progress of CERP implementation, including recent developments at Picayune Strand, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, the C-111 Spreader Canal, Indian River Lagoon-South, and the Loxahatchee River Watershed and several pilot projects that are under way. Also discussed in the chapter are programmatic progress and issues.
In Chapter 4, the committee discusses the current trajectories for 10 ecosystem attributes in the remnant Everglades ecosystem. The chapter also considers the potential impacts on those trajectories of three hypothetical scenarios for future restoration and the timescales of reversibility associated with further declines, to illuminate priorities for future restoration efforts.
In Chapter 5, the committee discusses the contributions and use of science for CERP decision making. The chapter includes analyses of recent science synthesis efforts, project-level adaptive management, monitoring, modeling, and science and values in decision making.