This chapter sets the stage for the fourth of this committee’s biennial assessments of restoration progress in the South Florida ecosystem. Background for understanding the project is provided through descriptions of the ecosystem decline, restoration goals, the needs of a restored ecosystem, and the specific activities of the restoration project. An overview of the legal context is also included.
The Everglades once encompassed about 3 million acres of slow-moving water and associated biota that stretched from Lake Okeechobee in the north to Florida Bay in the south (Figures 1-1a and 2-1a). The conversion of the uninhabited Everglades wilderness into an area of high agricultural productivity and cities was a dream of 19th-century investors, and projects begun between 1881 and 1894 affected the flow of water in the watershed north of Lake Okeechobee. By the late 1800s, more than 50,000 acres north and west of the lake had been drained and cleared for agriculture (Grunwald, 2006). These early projects included straightening the channel of the Kissimmee River and constructing a channel directly connecting Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. In 1907 Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward created the Everglades Drainage District to construct a vast array of ditches, canals, dikes, and “improved” channels. By the 1930s, Lake Okeechobee had a second outlet, through the St. Lucie Canal, leading to the Atlantic Ocean, and 440 miles of other canals altered the hydrology of the Everglades (Blake, 1980). After hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 resulted in disastrous flooding from Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) replaced the small berm that bordered the southern edge of the lake with the massive Herbert Hoover Dike that now encircles the lake. The hydrologic end product of these drainage activities was the drastic reduction of water storage within the system and an
increased susceptibility to drought and desiccation in the southern reaches of the Everglades (NRC, 2005).
After further flooding in 1947 and increasing demands for improved agricultural production and flood control for the expanding population centers on the southeast Florida coast, the U.S. Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project. This USACE project provided flood control with the construction of a levee along the eastern boundary of the Everglades to prevent flows into the southeastern urban areas, established the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) south of Lake Okeechobee, and created a series of Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) in the remaining space between the lake and Everglades National Park (Light and Dineen, 1994). The eastern levee isolated about 100,000 acres of the Everglades ecosystem, making it available for development (Lord, 1993). In total, urban and agricultural development have reduced the Everglades to about one-half its pre-drainage size (see Figure 1-1b; Davis and Ogden, 1994) and have contaminated its waters with chemicals such as phosphorus, nitrogen, sulfur, mercury, and pesticides. Associated drainage and flood-control structures, including the C&SF Project, have diverted large
quantities of water to the coastal areas, thereby reducing the freshwater inflows and natural water storage that defined the ecosystem (see Figure 2-1b).
The profound hydrologic alterations were accompanied by many changes in the biotic communities in the ecosystem, including reductions and changes in the composition, distribution, and abundance of the populations of wading birds. Today, the federal government has listed 67 plant and animal species in South Florida as threatened or endangered, with many more included on state lists. Some distinctive Everglades habitats, such as custard-apple forests and peripheral wet prairie, have disappeared altogether, while other habitats are severely reduced in area (Davis and Ogden, 1994; Marshall et al., 2004). Approximately 1 million acres are contaminated with mercury (McPherson and Halley, 1996). Phosphorus from agricultural runoff has impacted water quality in large portions of the Everglades and has been particularly problematic in Lake Okeechobee (Flaig and Reddy, 1995) (see Chapter 4 for a more detailed discussion of phosphorus enrichment in the Everglades). The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, including parts of the Indian River Lagoon, have been greatly altered by high and extremely variable freshwater discharges that bring nutrients and contaminants (Doering, 1996; Doering and Chamberlain, 1999).
At least as early as the 1920s, private citizens were calling attention to the degradation of the Florida Everglades (Blake, 1980). However, by the time Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s classic book The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947 (the same year that Everglades National Park was dedicated), the South Florida ecosystem had already been altered extensively. Prompted by concerns about deteriorating conditions in Everglades National Park and other parts of the South Florida ecosystem, the public, as well as the federal and state governments, directed increased attention to the adverse ecological effects of the flood-control and irrigation projects beginning in the 1970s (Kiker et al., 2001; Perry, 2004). By the late 1980s it was clear that various minor corrective measures undertaken to remedy the situation were insufficient. As a result, a powerful political consensus developed among federal agencies, state agencies and commissions, Native American tribes, county governments, and conservation organizations that a large restoration effort was needed in the Everglades (Kiker et al., 2001). This recognition culminated in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which builds on other ongoing restoration activities of the state and federal governments to create one of the most ambitious and extensive restoration efforts in the nation’s history.
RESTORATION GOALS FOR THE EVERGLADES
Several goals have been articulated for the restoration of the South Florida ecosystem, reflecting the various restoration programs. The South Florida
Ecosystem Restoration Task Force (hereafter, simply the Task Force), an intergovernmental body established to facilitate coordination in the restoration effort, has three broad strategic goals: (1) “get the water right,” (2) “restore, preserve, and protect natural habitats and species,” and (3) “foster compatibility of the built and natural systems” (SFERTF, 2000). These goals encompass, but are not limited to, the CERP. The Task Force works to coordinate and build consensus among the many non-CERP restoration initiatives that support these broad goals.
The goal of the CERP, as stated in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000), is “restoration, preservation, and protection of the South Florida Ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection.” The Programmatic Regulations (33 CFR 385.3) that guide implementation of the CERP further clarify this goal by defining restoration as “the recovery and protection of the South Florida ecosystem so that it once again achieves and sustains the essential hydrological and biological characteristics that defined the undisturbed South Florida ecosystem.” These defining characteristics include a large areal extent of interconnected wetlands, extremely low concentrations of nutrients in freshwater wetlands, sheet flow, healthy and productive estuaries, resilient plant communities, and an abundance of native wetland animals (DOI and USACE, 2005). Although development has permanently reduced the areal extent of the Everglades ecosystem, the CERP hopes to recover many of the Everglades’ original characteristics and natural ecosystem processes. At the same time, the CERP is charged to maintain levels of flood protection (as of 2000) and provide for other water-related needs, including water supply, for a rapidly growing human population in South Florida (DOI and USACE, 2005).
Although the CERP contributes to each of the Task Force’s three goals, it focuses primarily on restoring the hydrologic features of the undeveloped wetlands remaining in the South Florida ecosystem, on the assumption that improvements in ecological conditions will follow. Originally, “getting the water right” had four components—quality, quantity, timing, and distribution. However, the hydrologic properties of flow, encompassing the concepts of direction, velocity, and discharge, have been recognized as an important component of getting the water right that had previously been overlooked (NRC, 2003c; SCT, 2003). Numerous studies have supported the general approach to getting the water right (Davis and Ogden, 1994; NRC, 2005; SSG, 1993), although it is widely recognized that recovery of the native habitats and species in South Florida may require restoration efforts in addition to getting the water right, such as controlling exotic species and reversing the decline in the spatial extent and compartmentalization of the natural landscape (SFERTF, 2000; SSG, 1993).
The goal of ecosystem restoration can seldom be the exact re-creation of some historical or preexisting state because physical conditions, driving forces,
and boundary conditions usually have changed and are not fully recoverable. Rather, restoration is better viewed as the process of assisting the recovery of a degraded ecosystem to the point where it contains sufficient biotic and abiotic resources to continue its functions without further assistance in the form of energy or other resources from humans (NRC, 1996; Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group, 2004). The term ecosystem rehabilitation may be more appropriate when the objective is to improve conditions in a part of the South Florida ecosystem to at least some minimally acceptable level to allow the restoration of the larger ecosystem to advance. However, flood control remains a critical aspect of the CERP design, and artificial storage will be required to replace the lost natural storage in the system (NRC, 2005). For these and other reasons, even when the CERP is complete it will require large inputs of energy and human effort to operate and maintain pumps, stormwater treatment areas, canals and levees, and reservoirs, and to continue to manage exotic species. Thus, for the foreseeable future, the CERP does not envision ecosystem restoration or rehabilitation that returns the ecosystem to a state where it can “manage itself.”
Implicit in the understanding of ecosystem restoration is the recognition that natural systems are self-designing and dynamic, and, therefore, it is not possible to know in advance exactly what can or will be achieved. Thus, ecosystem restoration is an enterprise with some scientific uncertainty in methods or outcomes that requires continual testing of assumptions and monitoring and assessment of progress (Box 2-1). Additional challenges in defining and implementing restoration goals are discussed in the initial National Research Council (NRC) biennial review (NRC, 2007).
What Natural System Restoration Requires
Restoring the South Florida ecosystem to a desired ecological landscape requires reestablishment of the critical processes that sustained its historical functions. Although getting the water right is the oft-stated and immediate goal, the restoration will be considered successful if it restores the distinctive characteristics of the historical ecosystem to the remnant Everglades (DOI and USACE, 2005). Getting the water right is a means to an end, not the end in itself. The hydrologic and ecologic characteristics of the historical Everglades serve as restoration goals for a functional (albeit reduced in size) Everglades ecosystem. The first Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP) review identified five critical components of Everglades restoration (NRC, 2007):
1. Enough water storage capacity combined with operations that allow for appropriate volumes of water to support healthy estuaries and the return of
The Dynamic Reference Concept
Defining ecological restoration targets and measuring progress toward those targets in a dynamic system suffering from many forms of degradation is a daunting task, particularly when some of the degradation may be irreversible and the ecosystem is inhabited by a plethora of non-native species and is profoundly impacted by climate change. New tools and approaches may prove useful in meeting this challenge. Instead of relying on historical precedence, the dynamic reference concept (Hiers et al., 2012) focuses on the best available sites (called reference sites) to define restoration goals and measure restoration progress. Use of reference sites to define restoration goals is a well-developed tradition in aquatic systems (Stoddard et al., 2006). What is new about the dynamic reference approach is the quantitative method used to define reference sites and track restoration progress and system change.
The dynamic reference approach has been applied to restoration of the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystem on Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (Hiers et al., 2012), where the primary drivers of this ecosystem are fire, wind (most notably hurricanes), and soil-moisture (Hiers et al., 2007; Kirkman et al., 2001; Platt and Rathbun, 1993). Four different methods were used to identify proposed reference sites, which were plotted in ecological space along with non-reference sites of various types based on sampling of the vegetation community using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) ordination. By this process, a portion of the ecological space was identified as being reference; as a result, some sites previously designated as reference were reclassified as non-reference and vice versa. Resampling of individual reference sites revealed that although they remained within the reference space, their location within that space in some cases changed dramatically in response to fire and wind events. Resampling of non-reference sites revealed trajectories toward the reference space in response to restoration activities, chiefly restoration of historical fire regimes. At Eglin, the reference space represents the restoration target for the longleaf ecosystem, and this movement of non-reference sites toward reference space constitutes a quantitative measure of restoration progress. Over longer time intervals, the mean location of reference sites appears to be moving systematically in a particular direction in ordination space in response to climate change (K. Hiers, Eglin AFB, personal communication, 2012). In the dynamic reference approach, as the climate changes, so does the restoration goal.
The dynamic reference approach requires a sufficient number of reference sites to capture the variation in the community across key ecological gradients and in response to other drivers. This will limit its applicability in Everglades restoration because sufficient numbers of sites that are not significantly degraded may not exist for some community types. However, the approach might have some utility for features such as tree islands where some remain in good condition and there is a history of monitoring.
sheet flow through the Everglades ecosystem while meeting other demands for water;
2. Mechanisms for delivering and distributing the water to the natural system in a way that resembles historical flow patterns, affecting volume, depth, velocity, direction, distribution, and timing of flows;
3. Barriers to eastward seepage of water so that higher water levels can be maintained in parts of the Everglades ecosystem without compromising the current levels of flood protection of developed areas as required by the CERP;
4. Methods for securing water quality conditions compatible with restoration goals for a natural system that was inherently extremely nutrient poor, particularly with respect to phosphorus; and 6.
5. Retention, improvement, and expansion of the full range of habitats by preventing further losses of critical wetland and estuarine habitats and by protecting lands that could usefully be part of the restored ecosystem.
If these five critical components of restoration are achieved and the difficult problem of invasive species can be managed (Box 2-2), then the basic physical, chemical, and biological processes that created the historical Everglades can once again work to create a functional mosaic of biotic communities that resemble what was distinctive about the historical Everglades.
The history of the Everglades likely will make replication of the historical system impossible. Because of the historical changes that have occurred through engineered structures, urban development, introduced species, and other factors, the paths taken by the ecosystem and its components in response to restoration efforts will not retrace the paths taken to reach current conditions. This means that the paths toward restoration will pass through different intermediate conditions from the ones they passed through on their way to the current status. This phenomenon often is referred to as hysteresis (e.g., NRC, 2012; Scheffer et al., 2001; Tett et al., 2007) and is a complicating factor in any estimates of how long restoration efforts are likely to take to achieve their goals (Chapter 4).
Even if the restored system does not exactly replicate the historical system, or reach all of the biological, chemical, and physical targets, the reestablishment of natural processes and dynamics should result in a viable and valuable Everglades ecosystem. The central principle of ecosystem management is to provide for the natural processes that historically shaped an ecosystem, because ecosystems are characterized by the processes that regulate them. If the conditions necessary for those processes to operate are met, then recovery of species and communities is far more likely than if humans attempt to specify and manage every individual constituent and element of the ecological system (NRC, 2007).
Several restoration programs, including the largest of the initiatives, the CERP, are now under way. The CERP often builds upon non-CERP activities (also called “foundation projects”), many of which are essential to the effectiveness of the CERP. The following section provides a brief overview of the CERP and
Burmese Pythons in the Everglades
Invasive, non-native species are a major problem in the Everglades (NRC, 2008). Although there has been considerable success in controlling some non-native species (e.g., Melaleuca [Melaleuca quinquenervia]), new threats continue to emerge. The most alarming of the recent invaders is the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), a native of southern Asia that can grow to more than 5.5 m in length (see Figure 2-2-1).
Burmese pythons were observed intermittently in Everglades National Park for about 20 years before being recognized as established there in 2000 (Meshaka et al., 2000). Pythons have increased dramatically in abundance and range since 2000 and are now found throughout Everglades National Park and much of South Florida (Figure 2-2-2). The presence of a generalist apex predator (i.e., with no predator of its own) in the ecosystem is of particular concern because it can have a number of direct and indirect effects on the community through competition and predation, resulting in considerable alteration of trophic structure (Dorcas et al., 2012). Additionally, snakes can persist at high densities and therefore have particularly large impacts as invasive species (Dorcas et al., 2012; Rodda and Savidge, 2007).
A recent paper by Dorcas et al. (2012) provides compelling evidence that Burmese pythons are indeed having such strong impacts on the Everglades ecosystem. Compari-
sons of road surveys conducted in 1996-1997 and 2003-2011 revealed severe declines in mammal populations, especially for medium-sized predators, that coincide temporally and spatially with the proliferation of pythons in Everglades National Park. The authors documented population declines of 99 percent in both raccoons (Procyon lotor) and opossums (Didelphis virginiana), 87.5 percent in bobcats (Lynx rufus), and 94 percent in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). In more than 35,000 miles of nocturnal road surveys in 2003-2011, not a single rabbit (Sylvilagus spp.) or fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus and Vulpes vulpes) was seen in Everglades National Park. With the exception of deer, which declined throughout the study area, these mammal species are most abundant outside the python’s current range, largely absent from areas in which pythons have been established for some time (i.e., Everglades National Park), and intermediately abundant in areas pythons invaded relatively recently. Anecdotal observations support the results of the road surveys: Everglades National Park personnel have had no reports of nuisance raccoons, which once required a removal program, since 2005 (Dorcas et al., 2012).
The declines of species such as rabbits, raccoons, and opossums are no doubt due to the direct effects of predation by pythons. Declines of bobcats and foxes could
be due to predation or, alternatively, might represent the indirect effect of reduced prey availability (i.e., competition). By eliminating mid-level predators, the python likely is having a myriad of as yet undocumented indirect effects on the ecosystem, both positive and negative. There may be additional undocumented direct effects as well, because more than 40 different species have been documented as python prey, including endangered wood storks (Mycteria americana), limpkins (Aramus guarauna), and several species of herons and egrets (Dorcas et al., 2012; Dove et al., 2011). The eventual impact on Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi), a species of great conservation interest, remains a concern.
Can Burmese pythons be eradicated? Their current population is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 individuals and is probably closer to the upper end of this range, which would make them more numerous in the Everglades than in Asia (Dorcas and Willson, 2011). Preliminary modeling indicates that removing 2,000 to 10,000 per year (depending on current population size) is required to induce decline in the population (J. Willson, Virginia Tech, personal communication, 2012), whereas currently roughly 350 are being removed per year from Everglades National Park (Dorcas et al., 2012). Clearly the task is daunting, and likely impossible with current control methods. The problem is growing as the python increases in population and expands in range. How far will it spread? Its range in Asia includes temperate regions, and its physiology is such that it could survive throughout the Southeast (Rodda et al., 2009), although its range likely will be constrained by its niche, perhaps to only southern Florida (Pyron et al., 2008). However far it spreads, the Burmese python is a significant new challenge to restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.
some of the major non-CERP activities, as well as an update on the legal context for water quality.
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
WRDA 2000 authorized the CERP as the framework for modifying the C&SF Project. Considered a blueprint for the restoration of the South Florida ecosystem, the CERP is led by two organizations with considerable expertise managing the water resources of South Florida— the USACE, which built most of the canals and levees throughout the region, and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the state agency with primary responsibility for operating and maintaining this complicated water collection and distribution system.
The CERP conceptual plan (USACE and SFWMD, 1999; also called the Yellow Book) proposes major alterations to the C&SF Project in an effort to reverse decades of ecosystem decline. The Yellow Book includes approximately 50 major projects consisting of 68 project components to be con-
structed at a cost of approximately $13.5 billion (estimated in 2009 dollars; DOI and USACE, 2011; Figure 2-2). Major components of the restoration plan focus on restoring the quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of water for the natural system. The Yellow Book outlines the major CERP components, including the following:
• Conventional surface-water storage reservoirs. The Yellow Book includes plans for approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of storage, located north of Lake Okeechobee, in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee basins, in the EAA, and in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties.
• Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). The Yellow Book proposes to provide substantial water storage through ASR, a highly engineered approach that would use a large number of wells built around Lake Okeechobee, in Palm Beach County, and in the Caloosahatchee Basin to store water approximately 1,000 feet below ground; the feasibility of this approach is currently being examined through pilot tests.
• In-ground reservoirs. The Yellow Book proposes additional water storage in quarries created by rock mining.
• Stormwater treatment areas (STAs). The CERP contains plans for additional constructed wetlands that will treat agricultural and urban runoff water before it enters natural wetlands.1
• Seepage management. The Yellow Book outlines seepage management projects to prevent unwanted loss of water from the natural system through levees and groundwater flow. The approaches include adding impermeable barriers to the levees, installing pumps near levees to redirect lost water back into the Everglades, and holding water levels higher in undeveloped areas between the Everglades and the developed lands to the east.
• Removing barriers to sheet flow. The CERP includes plans for removing 240 miles of levees and canals, to reestablish shallow sheet flow of water through the Everglades ecosystem.
1Although some STAs are included among CERP projects, the USACE has clarified its policy on federal cost-sharing for water quality features. A memo from the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) (USACE, 2007) states: “Before there can be a Federal interest to cost share a WQ [water quality] improvement feature, the State must be in compliance with WQ standards for the current use of the water to be affected and the work proposed must be deemed essential to the Everglades restoration effort…This determination must be based on some finding other than the project is a part of CERP and generally will aid the restoration effort.” The memo goes on to state, “the Yellow Book specifically envisioned that the State would be responsible for meeting water quality standards.” Therefore, it appears that until the water flowing into the project features meets existing water quality requirements or unless a special exemption is granted for projects deemed “essential to Everglades restoration,” the state is responsible for 100 percent of the costs of CERP water quality project features.
• Rainfall-driven water management. The Yellow Book includes operational changes in the water delivery schedules to the WCAs and Everglades National Park to mimic more natural patterns of water delivery and flow through the system.
• Water reuse and conservation. To address shortfalls in water supply, the Yellow Book proposes two advanced wastewater treatment plants so that the reclaimed water could be discharged to wetlands along Biscayne Bay or used to recharge the Biscayne aquifer.
The largest portion of the budget is devoted to storage and water conservation projects and to acquiring the lands needed for them (see NRC, 2005).
The modifications to the C&SF Project embodied in the CERP are expected to take more than three decades to complete, and to be effective, they require a clear strategy for managing and coordinating restoration efforts. The Everglades Programmatic Regulations state that decisions on CERP implementation are made by the USACE and the SFWMD (or any other local project sponsors), in consultation with the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and other federal, state, and local agencies (33 CFR Part 385).
WRDA 2000 endorses the use of an adaptive management framework for the restoration process, and the Programmatic Regulations formally establish an adaptive management program that will “assess responses of the South Florida ecosystem to implementation of the Plan; …[and] seek continuous improvement of the Plan based upon new information resulting from changed or unforeseen circumstances, new scientific and technical information, new or updated modeling; information developed through the assessment principles contained in the Plan; and future authorized changes to the Plan.” An interagency body called Restoration, Coordination, and Verification (RECOVER) has been established to ensure that sound science is used in the restoration. The RECOVER leadership group oversees the monitoring and assessment program that will evaluate the progress of the CERP toward restoring the natural system and will assess the need for changes to the plan through the adaptive management process.
Major Program-level CERP-related Developments Since 2000
Several major program-level developments have occurred since the CERP was launched that have affected the pace and focus of CERP efforts. In 2004, Florida launched Acceler8, a plan to hasten the pace of project implementation that was bogged down by the slow federal planning process (for further discussion of Acceler8, see NRC, 2007). Acceler8 originally included 11 CERP project
components and 1 non-CERP project, and although the state was unable to complete all of the original tasks, the program led to increased state investment and expedited project construction timelines for several CERP projects (see Chapter 3).
In 2008, Governor Charlie Crist announced the planned acquisition of 187,000 acres of agricultural land from the U.S. Sugar Corporation to maximize restoration opportunities for the South Florida ecosystem. The SFWMD subsequently launched the River of Grass public planning process to facilitate agency and stakeholder input on future uses of the new lands for restoration. In October 2010, the SFWMD closed on the purchase of 26,800 acres of land for approximately $197 million in cash and retained the option to acquire more than 153,000 additional acres over the next 10 years. Plans for use of the acquired lands have not been finalized at this time.
In 2011, the USACE initiated a pilot program to improve the pace of its project planning. As one of five pilot projects nationwide, the Central Everglades Planning Project was launched in November 2011, with the objective of developing a plan for restoration of the central Everglades that could be delivered for congressional authorization within two years. This effort has focused attention on central Everglades planning at all levels of the CERP partnering agencies and involves extensive stakeholder engagement facilitated by the Task Force. These initiatives are described in more detail in Chapter 3.
Non-CERP Restoration Activities
When Congress authorized the CERP in WRDA 2000, the SFWMD, the USACE, the National Park Service (NPS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) were already implementing several activities intended to restore key aspects of the Everglades ecosystem. These non-CERP initiatives are critical to the overall restoration progress. In fact, the CERP’s effectiveness was predicated upon the completion of many of these projects, which include Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park (Mod Waters), C-111 (South Dade), and the Everglades Construction Project (see Box 2-3). Several additional projects are also under way to meet the broad restoration goals for the South Florida ecosystem and associated legislative mandates. They include extensive water quality initiatives, such as the Everglades Construction Project, and programs to establish best management practices (BMPs) to reduce nutrient loading.
Developments in the Legal Context for Water Quality
Although an evaluation of the scientific issues associated with Everglades restoration is not constrained by the legal and policy decisions currently being made by the state and federal governments or the courts, the committee recog-
Non-CERP Restoration Activities in South Florida
The following represent the major non-CERP initiatives currently under way in support of the South Florida ecosystem restoration (Figure 2-3-1). Progress on these non-CERP projects is discussed in Appendix B.
Kissimmee River Restoration Project
This project, authorized by Congress in 1992, aims to reestablish the historical river-floodplain system at the headwaters of the Everglades watershed and, thereby, restore biological diversity and functionality. The project plans to backfill 22 miles of the 56-mile C-38 Canal and carve new sections of the river channel to connect channel remnants, thereby restoring over 40 miles of meandering river channel in the Kissimmee River.
The project includes a comprehensive evaluation program to track ecological responses to restoration (Jones et al., 2010).
Everglades Construction Project and the Long-Term Plan
The Everglades Forever Act (F.S. 373.4592; see Appendix C) required the state of Florida to construct stormwater treatment areas (STAs) to reduce the loading of phosphorus into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge (LNWR), the WCAs, and Everglades National Park. These STAs are part of the state’s Long-Term Plan for Achieving Water Quality Goals, including the total phosphorus criterion for the Everglades Protection Area of 10 parts per billion (ppb).a
Modifications to the C&SF: C-111 (South Dade) Project
This project is designed to improve hydrologic conditions in Taylor Slough and the Rocky Glades of the eastern panhandle of Everglades National Park and to increase freshwater flows to northeast Florida Bay, while maintaining flood protection for urban and agricultural development in south Miami-Dade County. The project plan includes a tieback levee with pumps to capture groundwater seepage to the east, detention areas to increase groundwater levels and thereby enhance flow into Everglades National Park, and backfilling or plugging several canals in the area. A combined operational plan (COP) will integrate the goals of the Mod Waters and C-111 projects and protect the quality of water entering Everglades National Park (DOI and USACE, 2005).
Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park Project (Mod Waters)
This federally funded project, authorized in 1989, is designed to restore more natural hydrologic conditions in Everglades National Park. The project includes levee modifications and installation of a seepage control pump to increase water flow into WCA-3B and northeastern portions of Everglades National Park. It also includes providing flood mitigation to the 8.5-square-mile area (a low-lying but partially developed area on the northeast corner of Everglades National Park) and raising portions of Tamiami Trail.
nizes that it should be cognizant of the realities of the legal context in which Everglades restoration must take place. Accordingly, a review of the most significant recent legal actions is warranted.2
Currently, most of the legal issues related to restoration focus on water quality. Although the primary goal of the CERP is to “get the water right” by restoring the hydrology of the system, water quantity and water quality are inextricably
2 A discussion of certain legal issues related to water quality is included solely to provide a context and the legal backdrop against which many Everglades restoration decisions are being made. Any discussion of legal issues included in this report or its appendices is not intended in any way to take a position on any legal issue, to provide any legal advice, or to comment on the merit of any particular court ruling or other legal decision.
Mod Waters is a prerequisite for the first phase of decompartmentalization (i.e., removing some barriers to sheet flow), which is part of the CERPb (DOI and USACE, 2005; NRC, 2008).
Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program
In 2007, the Florida legislature expanded the Lake Okeechobee Protection Act (LOPA) to include protection and restoration of the Lake Okeechobee watershed and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. The legislation, being implemented as the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program, will focus resources on restoration efforts for Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. The Lake Okeechobee Watershed Construction Project Phase II Technical Plan, issued in February 2008 in accordance with LOPA, consolidated the numerous initiatives already under way through Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan (LOPP) and Lake Okeechobee and Estuary Recovery (LOER) Plan.
Congress gave programmatic authority for the Everglades and South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Critical Projects in Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 1996, with modification in WRDA 1999 and WRDA 2007. These were small projects that could be quickly implemented to provide immediate and substantial restoration benefits such as improved quality of water discharged into WCA-3A and Lake Okeechobee and more natural water flows to estuaries. Examples of the Critical Projects include the Florida Keys Carrying Capacity Study, Lake Okeechobee Water Retention and Phosphorus Removal, Seminole Big Cypress Reservation Water Conservation Plan, Tamiami Trail Culverts, Ten Mile Creek Water Preserve Area, and the Lake Trafford Restoration (DOI and USACE, 2011).c See also Appendix B.
b See http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/dp/mwdenp-c111/index.htm for more information on Mod Waters and the C-111 Project.
intertwined (NRC, 2010), and any effort to address water quantity concerns must also consider water quality concerns. One of the most significant challenges to Everglades restoration is the inability to distribute treated water from the STAs into the Everglades Protection Area if that water leads to violations of legally mandated water quality standards. The history of Everglades water quality standards and associated issues are discussed in Chapter 4 of NRC (2010) and will not be repeated here. Issues related to compliance with water quality standards have been the subject of two significant and ongoing lawsuits. Both of these cases make it clear that discharging water into the Everglades Protection Area in a way that does not comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved water quality standards is considered to be a violation of federal law.
Appendix D provides a complete timeline of the significant legal actions related to water quality that affect progress toward meeting the CERP restoration goals. The EPA’s Amended Determination and EPA’s adoption of numerical nutrient water quality criteria for the state of Florida are two of the most important legal actions that have taken place since this committee’s previous report.
The Amended Determination
On September 3, 2010, EPA issued its Amended Determination as directed by Judge Gold in an April 14, 2010, order, in which he found that EPA’s 2009 “Determination” that Florida’s water quality standards for the Everglades complied with the requirements of the Clean Water Act failed to comply with a previous court ruling and directed EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to take certain steps to comply with their mandatory duties under the Clean Water Act (CWA). In the Amended Determination, EPA directs FDEP to correct deficiencies in its water quality standards and articulates that “the narrative and numeric nutrient criteria in the State’s water quality standards are not being met for the Everglades Protection Area.” The Amended Determination was intended to provide an enforceable plan for ensuring that the water entering the Everglades Protection Area from the EAA and the C-139 Basin complies with the narrative and numeric phosphorus criteria, which are already in place for the Everglades Protection Area.
The Amended Determination specifically speaks to each of the directives ordered by Judge Gold. These actions include: (1) revisions to EPA’s 2009 Determination; (2) directions to Florida for correcting deficiencies in Florida’s Phosphorous Rule and the Amended Everglades Forever Act (EFA); (3) provisions for the “manner and method for obtaining enforceable [water quality based effluent limit or] WQBEL within time certain”; (4) requirements to measure and submit annual reports on cumulative impacts until Water Quality Standards are attained; (5) directions to Florida to conform all National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and EFA permits pursuant to court orders by eliminating all non-conforming language and by including the WQBEL presented in the Amended Determination; and (6) establishment of an “enforceable framework for ensuring compliance with the CWA and Applicable Regulations” (EPA, 2010).
Of particular significance is the Amended Determination’s establishment of a WQBEL that must be included in all permits for discharges from STAs. The WQBEL is intended to ensure that water leaving the STAs is of high enough quality to ensure compliance with narrative and numeric nutrient criteria. To meet the WQBEL, the Amended Determination states that total phosphorus concentrations in the discharge from the STAs may not exceed either: 10 ppb as an annual geometric mean in more than two consecutive years or 18 ppb as an
annual flow-weighted mean. EPA maintains that “[c]ompliance with both parts of the WQBEL is necessary to assure that the STA discharges will not cause an exceedance of the long-term criterion of 10 ppb.” The Amended Determination also instructs the state of Florida on how to meet the WQBEL and identifies specific milestones that must be met.
The Amended Determination states that to meet the WQBEL with existing flows, it will be necessary to establish approximately 42,000 additional acres of STAs. This could be accomplished by using land originally intended for the EAA reservoir (Phases A1 and A2) and U.S Sugar lands purchased by the state. EPA also asserts that the state should pursue additional source controls through additional or improved BMPs on farms in the EAA and/or subbasin treatment approaches as required by the Amended EFA as necessary to reduce the phosphorus load entering the STAs and to further optimize the performance of the STAs. The Amended Determination provided a 60-day opportunity for the state to propose an alternative for achieving water quality standards in the Everglades Protection Area. In November 2010, the Executive Director of the SFWMD notified EPA of the SFWMD’s decision to decline the opportunity to provide an alternative proposal for achieving water quality standards created by the federal government for the Everglades. While referencing its history of good faith efforts to improve water quality in the Everglades, the SFWMD declined to comply with EPA’s Amended Determination because of the high financial burden (estimated to be $1.5 to $2.0 billion) it would place on the state.
Since November 2011, the state of Florida has been actively working to reach agreement with EPA and other federal agencies on an alternative plan to meet the water quality criteria. The state believes that this alternative plan will achieve the same water quality goals as would the Amended Determination plan but at a lower cost and in a shorter timeframe. On June 13, 2012, EPA announced that the alternative plan addresses its previous objections and “provides an enforceable framework for ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act” (Fleming, 2012). Presumably, EPA will submit the plan to the court that previously approved the Amended Determination. Additional detail on this plan is provided in Chapter 3.
EPA’s Numerical Nutrient Water Quality Criteria for the State of Florida
The other major legal development regarding water quality since the committee’s previous report involves the establishment of numeric nutrient criteria for water bodies in the state of Florida. At the time of this writing, EPA and FDEP each have promulgated different numeric nutrient criteria for phosphorus and nitrogen in certain water bodies in Florida, and it is expected that numeric nutrient criteria will be established for additional Florida water bodies in the
future. Numerous environmental and business interests have challenged both the federal and state rules, and as a result, the issue of what numeric nutrient criteria ultimately will apply remains unresolved. In early 2012, a federal court upheld the majority of EPA’s rule and remanded a portion of the rule to EPA for additional consideration. EPA has proposed an extension of the effective date of the portions of the rule that were found to be valid until October 2012. However, EPA has indicated that if it determines that the FDEP rule complies with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, then it will approve the Florida rule and withdraw the EPA rule. In June 2012, the FDEP rule was upheld by the state’s administrative law judge, but EPA has not yet made any official determination regarding the adequacy of the Florida rule. A detailed description of both the federal and state rules and the various legal challenges involved in this issue is provided in Appendix E.
At this time, it does not appear that either of the pending rules for interior water bodies will have significant implications for Everglades restoration because numeric water quality standards for the Everglades have been in place for some time and there is no indication that either EPA or FDEP plans to extend its respective numeric nutrient criteria to replace the existing standard for the Everglades. In addition, neither rule addresses the ditches and canals in the Everglades and the EPA rule does not address estuaries. Nevertheless, EPA has indicated that it intends to promulgate a rule that establishes numeric nutrient criteria for estuaries and for South Florida ditches and canals in the future (see Appendix E). Depending on the specific numeric nutrient criteria EPA or FDEP chooses to apply to these water bodies, these future rules could have significant implications for Everglades restoration. If the criteria are set at levels currently not being met, then additional treatment or altered water management schedules may be required to comply with the law.
The Everglades ecosystem is one of the world’s ecological treasures, but for more than a century the installation of an extensive water control infrastructure has changed the geography of South Florida and facilitated extensive agricultural and urban development. These changes have had profound ancillary effects on regional hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife populations. The CERP, a joint effort led by the state and federal governments and launched in 2000, seeks to reverse the general decline of the ecosystem. Since 2000, the CERP and other major Everglades restoration efforts have adapted to changing budgets, refinements in scientific understanding, and an evolving legal context, particularly as it relates to water quality. The implications on implementation progress are discussed in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4.