The Florida Everglades, one of the world’s treasured ecosystems, 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. The remnants of the original Everglades now compete for vital water with urban and agricultural interests and are impaired by contaminated runoff from these two activities. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint effort led by the state and the federal government and launched in 2000, seeks to reverse the decline of the ecosystem. This $13.5 billion project was originally envisioned as a 30- to 40-year effort to achieve ecological restoration by restoring the hydrologic characteristics of the Everglades, where feasible, and to create a water system that serves the needs of both the natural and the human systems of South Florida (Figure S-1).
The National Research Council established the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress in 2004 in response to a request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), with support from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U.S. Department of the Interior, based on Congress’s mandate in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000). The committee is charged to submit biennial reports that review the CERP’s progress in restoring the natural system. This is the committee’s fifth report in a series of biennial evaluations. Each biennial report provides an update on natural system restoration progress over the previous 2 years, describes significant accomplishments (Chapter 4), and addresses important developments in research, monitoring, and assessment that inform restoration decision making (Chapter 7). In each new report, the committee also identifies issues for in-depth evaluation in light of new CERP program developments, policy initiatives, or improvements in scientific knowledge that have implications for restoration progress (see Chapter 1 for the committee’s full statement of task). For this 2014 biennial review, the committee examined the Central
FIGURE S-1 The South Florida ecosystem, which shares the same boundaries as the South Florida Water Management District.
SOURCE: © International Mapping Associates
OVERALL EVALUATION OF PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES
During the past 2 years, Everglades restoration has been defined by exceptional project planning accomplishments with substantial restoration potential on the one hand; and increasingly frustrating financial, procedural, and policy constraints impeding project implementation on the other. All of this has occurred against the backdrop of modest restoration progress focused along the edges of the Everglades, considerable state efforts to improve water quality, ongoing degradation of the core Everglades, and increasing restoration threats posed by sea-level rise and invasive species.
The Central Everglades Planning Project is an impressive strategy to expedite restoration and avert further degradation of the central Everglades. The Everglades also appears on the threshold of other significant advances in natural system restoration, particularly from several key non-CERP projects. However, project authorization, funding levels, and cost-sharing complexities have impeded the completion of important ongoing restoration projects, and water quality permitting constraints represent serious impediments to near-term implementation of the critical Central Everglades Planning Project. Timely authorization, adequate funding levels, and creative policy and implementation strategies are essential to realize important short-term restoration benefits, but more importantly to expedite implementation of the Central Everglades Planning Project in order to realize its substantial restoration potential.
Climate change provides additional incentives to expedite restoration. The CERP provides important means to help mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise and precipitation and temperature changes by enhancing ecosystem resilience, promoting peat accretion, and reducing saltwater intrusion. Implementation priorities should be revised to focus resources on those projects with the greatest potential to avert ecosystem degradation and provide long-term benefits considering sea-level rise and potential changes in temperature and precipitation. Restoration planners need to examine critical unknowns related to sea-level-rise impacts on the Everglades, assess climate projections as they improve over time, analyze their implications for restoration, and design for flexibility wherever feasible.
Planners must also remain cognizant of the potential impacts of invasive species on the success of the CERP. Additional strategic coordination is needed to prioritize invasive species management and research resources while maintaining an aggressive early detection and rapid response system. The report’s major conclusions and recommendations are summarized below.
CENTRAL EVERGLADES PLANNING PROJECT
The Central Everglades Planning Project effort is responsive to the committee’s prior recommendations to expedite restoration in the central Everglades via increments of restoration to avert further declines that could take many decades or longer to recover. Overall, the project team did an impressive job under a challenging time frame. The proposed plan seems reasonable and thoughtfully developed with substantial stakeholder input. Implementation of the plan would provide significant benefits to the remnant Everglades ecosystem, including more than 200,000 acre-feet/yr of new water—a sizeable first increment of restoration for the central Everglades that represents approximately two-thirds of the new water to northern Water Conservation Area 3 envisioned in the CERP. A comprehensive adaptive management plan provides an important mechanism to learn from project implementation to improve the operation of the project and the design of future increments of restoration, although additional attention to climate change uncertainties is needed.
If the Central Everglades Planning Project is to avert further ecosystem degradation, CERP planners and policy makers need to expedite project implementation in the face of several hurdles. The best-laid plans will be of little benefit if the project is not implemented in a timely way. Completion of the Chief of Engineers’ Report for the Central Everglades Planning Project, congressional authorization, and construction of project dependencies are key near-term steps necessary to move forward. Project funding and water quality permitting constraints currently appear to be the largest barriers to timely project implementation. Creative solutions may be available to significantly expedite restoration, such as finding permit mechanisms to move water that meets water quality criteria into the Everglades prior to completion of the entire Restoration Strategies project. Such approaches will require the agencies to recognize the urgency and to work to find legal and engineering solutions to move increments of water into the Everglades as soon as those increments have been adequately treated to meet water quality standards. Without such solutions, redistribution of existing water may not be feasible until 2035 or beyond, and at the envisioned funding level of $100 million per year, construction would not be completed for approximately four decades—exceedingly long for a system already in significant decline.
Some important lessons were learned from the expedited planning process. Although overall, participants and stakeholders thought the process led to a useful outcome, the 22-month planning time frame was extremely challenging for staff and stakeholders, alike. The process required large numbers of staff and became the central focus of the restoration program. Such attention was deserved for this high-priority initiative, but similar intensive efforts are unlikely
to be sustainable for future CERP planning. Furthermore, stakeholders with technical expertise found it difficult to keep up with the pace of model output presented and hence could not adequately evaluate the information provided. Thus, 3 years might be a more reasonable time frame for such a complex effort. Communication within and between agencies was a particular strength of the expedited process; senior decision makers were involved at key decision points and as needed to resolve issues and improve planning efficiency. However, the existing USACE process for evaluating restoration benefits makes it difficult to be transparent about tradeoffs in planning decisions.
The enhanced stakeholder and public engagement process was well executed and should serve as a model for future planning processes. This level of active and inclusive stakeholder engagement had not previously been implemented as part of the CERP, and it provided a means for two-way dialogue between stakeholders and agency staff that substantially influenced the planning outcome. Although the abbreviated time frame led to concerns from participants, overall, the committee commends the efforts to educate and engage the stakeholders and modify the project plan where feasible to address concerns.
The infrequency of Water Resources Development Acts (WRDAs) has impeded CERP progress over the past 2 years. Seven years have elapsed since the last WRDA was passed, and four Generation 2 CERP projects with approved project plans awaited congressional authorization between 2012 and June 2014 when the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014) was signed into law. Additionally, two of the previously authorized CERP projects require reauthorization due to cost escalations; thus, prior to WRRDA 2014, only one CERP project—Indian River Lagoon South—was eligible for sizeable (>$25 million) construction funding. With the passage of WRRDA 2014, four additional projects are able to proceed with federal funding, although the Central Everglades Planning Project was not completed in time to be included. Lack of authorizations also had important implications for the cost-share balance, discussed below.
Availability of funding also impeded CERP progress in the past 2 years. State CERP expenditures have declined substantially in recent years, because of reduced SFWMD revenues and the need to fund non-CERP water quality projects to meet a 2012 Consent Order. Even though the state has spent significantly more than the federal government on the CERP since its inception, the state has been precariously close to the mandated 50-50 cost-share requirement because, prior to WRRDA 2014, land acquisition and construction expenditures could only be credited for the four congressionally authorized Generation 1 projects.
Declining state funding for CERP projects over the past 2 years has contributed to cost-sharing challenges, and as of September 2013, the state’s “creditable expenditures” exceeded those of the federal government by only $98 million. As a result, the federal government significantly reduced spending in FY 2014 so as not to exceed the 50-50 cost share. Passage of WRRDA 2014 could allow the state to realize approximately $400 million in additional cost-sharing credits for prior spending, thereby easing an impending constraint on federal contributions toward the CERP.
CERP planners need to revisit the Integrated Delivery Schedule with a renewed urgency to advance projects with the greatest potential to avert ongoing ecosystem degradation and those that promise the largest restoration benefits. The current draft Integrated Delivery Schedule has not been updated since 2011, and difficult decisions will need to be made to integrate the four Generation 2 CERP projects and the Central Everglades Planning Project (and related project dependencies) with existing CERP and non-CERP efforts. To expedite Everglades restoration amid limited funding, all authorized projects cannot be advanced equally. Some projects may be more beneficial in light of climate change and sea-level rise and others less so, and these factors should be considered in the prioritization of restoration funding.
The restoration progress made by CERP projects to date remains fairly modest in scope. Ecosystem responses have been detected after phased implementation in the Picayune Strand, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, and C-111 Spreader Canal projects, although many of these improvements are limited. In some cases, such as Biscayne Bay, the scope of the restoration increment to date is simply so limited in area that ecological responses are equally small. In other cases, such as Picayune Strand, additional time may be needed to achieve full ecosystem responses to the restoration measures in place. Taylor Slough has seen significant hydrologic improvements due to restoration efforts, but the documented benefits to date are primarily derived from the C-111 South Dade Project, a non-CERP project. For all three of these projects, ecological responses would be expected to increase with construction and operation of additional project increments as well as additional time for ecosystem recovery.
Several non-CERP projects have faced bureaucratic and policy issues that hindered implementation progress. Agency disagreements about cost-sharing arrangements and legal requirements affected progress on the Kissimmee River Restoration and the C-111 South Dade project by delaying them for almost 2 years. However, the SFWMD and the USACE have made important progress to resolve these differences and resume construction. Meanwhile, water quality compliance issues and the lack of an operational plan are preventing realization of restoration benefits in the Mod Waters project. Scientific knowledge is adequate for success, and engineering problems in construction and opera-
tion appear not to be impeding restoration progress. These non-CERP foundation projects offer large potential restoration benefits once fully implemented. Renewed attention is needed to resolve the remaining bureaucratic challenges to expedite restoration progress and realize the ecological returns from substantial financial investments to date.
STA performance shows signs of improvement under recent management. Long-term sustainable performance, however, will be directly influenced by loading rates. Additional treatment-area and flow-equalization basins in the Restoration Strategies project are likely to further reduce loading rates and outflow concentrations. Continued adaptive management, including implementation of new strategies developed through ongoing research, is needed to meet water quality standards and to sustain performance of these treatment systems.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND SEA-LEVEL RISE: IMPLICATIONS FOR RESTORATION
Climate change provides a strong incentive for accelerating restoration. Current impacts of rising sea levels are a harbinger of future climate change effects on the functioning and structure of the Everglades ecosystem and the ecosystem services on which South Florida depends. Sea-level rise in South Florida is already increasing saltwater intrusion into Everglades freshwater habitats and urban water supplies, and future climate changes are likely to be manifested through changes in the timing, volume, and quality of freshwater; distributions of species; and the extent of wetland habitats. Climate change is also expected to increase agricultural water demands, which when paired with anticipated population growth, highlights the potential regional water supply challenges in South Florida under future scenarios. Everglades restoration enhances the ability of the ecosystem to withstand and adapt to future changes and increases water availability to the ecosystem and to urban and agricultural users. Improvements in Everglades water depths promote higher rates of peat accretion that could help mitigate the effects of sea-level rise and reduce the impacts of saltwater intrusion on urban water supplies.
Although the projections are uncertain, significant changes in precipitation and temperature coupled with increasing sea level have important implications for the CERP. The Everglades landscape is especially sensitive to sea-level rise, and rates of sea-level rise in South Florida are predicted to increase. A scenario of 1.5-degree increase in temperature and a 10 percent decrease in precipitation together with anticipated sea-level rise results in significant changes in coastal ecosystems and insufficient freshwater to sustain the natural and built systems. To decrease uncertainty associated with precipitation projections and clarify future risk, global climate model projections of intra-annual, annual, and interannual variability in precipitation and temperature need to be improved and refined.
These improved climate projections should, in turn, be used by CERP planners as input to drive Everglades hydrologic models suitable for making inferences on year-to-year and seasonal variations in freshwater availability.
Climate change is not adequately considered in the CERP planning process and should be integrated into future ongoing analysis and monitoring. CERP project designs are based on historical hydrology and have not been assessed in the context of future precipitation and evapotranspiration scenarios. Currently, only sea-level rise is considered in CERP planning and usually only as a cursory analysis at the end of the process to assess loss of benefits through 2050 with wetland inundation resulting from sea-level rise. The lack of consideration of the effects of climate change paints an incomplete picture of hydrologic and ecosystem response to the alternatives examined and ignores the potential benefits of the projects to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Additionally, hydrologic restoration goals are based on the natural systems model, which reflects the past 50 years rather than any likely future. Depending on future climate change, some hydrologic or ecological restoration goals may be unattainable or prove to be not cost-effective. Urban and agricultural water demands unmet under dire climate scenarios highlight the need for additional analysis of water sustainability for the natural and built systems.
CERP planners should consider the implications of sea-level rise and potential hydrologic change in systemwide planning and project prioritization. Likely sea-level-rise projections can be used to evaluate future project benefits, considering uncertainties regarding the potential for accretion in coastal and inland wetlands to mitigate these effects. Sea-level-rise scenarios should also be coupled with hydrologic change scenarios to characterize systemwide response to global change. The outcome of these analyses would inform future systemwide decisions of project prioritization. Re-prioritization should include consideration of both those rendered less important and less effective in light of reduced benefits in the context of climate change and sea-level rise and those projects that become more essential to enhance the ability of the ecosystem and the built environment to adapt to changes and mitigate the effects of changing climate.
Anticipating future changes in temperature, precipitation, and sea-level rise, CERP planners should, where feasible, design for flexibility. Climate change needs to be incorporated into adaptive management planning, at both project-scale and when considering systemwide goals. It is likely that additional water storage will be needed to address anticipated future increases in variability of meteorological conditions. As new knowledge becomes available, it needs to be incorporated into the CERP adaptive management framework so that managers can adjust future restoration efforts appropriately as the nature of changes in climate become more evident. In addition, the current monitoring program
should be evaluated to ensure that important effects of climate change will be characterized and quantified.
The committee identified several high-priority research needs related to climate change and Everglades restoration:
• Assess the rates of peat/sediment accretion and subsidence in coastal and inland freshwater wetlands in the context of sea-level rise;
• Improve modeling tools that can be used to assess the effects of projected sea-level rise on groundwater supplies and coastal ecosystem functioning and examine the potential for the CERP to mitigate these effects;
• Improve, refine, and evaluate downscaled climate model projections in the context of South Florida water resources and Everglades restoration;
• Improve the understanding of factors that could help maintain the diverse mosaic of Everglades habitats and increase their resilience amid changes in climate and sea level; and
• With improved climate and sea-level projections, reevaluate the goals for Everglades restoration and develop alternative goals as appropriate.
INVASIVE NONNATIVE SPECIES
Despite excellent progress in developing coordination of the management of invasive species at the operational level, there is a lack of coordination at a strategic level that includes a comprehensive view of all nonnative species in all parts of the greater Everglades. Currently, plants and animals tend to be considered separately. Management and restoration activities need to take account of the entire biotic community and not be partitioned into different taxa. For many invasive species, different agencies take on management activities in different areas, yet individuals of such species move between areas, so that management in one area can impact other areas. These factors argue for the creation of a high-level coordinative entity to oversee policy, management, and budgets related to nonnative species. Prioritization of research needs and control efforts across areas, species, habitats, and agencies would be a major responsibility of this entity. The committee is optimistic that the Comprehensive Invasive Species Strategic Action Framework being developed by the South Florida Ecosystem Task Force will be a major step toward achieving these goals of high-level coordination.
A strategic early detection and rapid response (EDRR) system that addresses all areas, habitats, and species is needed. EDRR is an essential strategy if new invasions of nonnative species in the Everglades are to be eradicated (or at least contained) while it is still feasible and relatively inexpensive to do so. Several EDRR efforts are under way, but the current level of monitoring is insufficient
to address the geographic extent and range of nonnative species threats in the Everglades. In general, a rapid response requires quick access to resources, but efforts to eradicate incipient invasions in the Everglades have more often been stymied by the inability to obtain funds from federal, state, or local sources. The costs of additional monitoring and response should be weighed against the likely benefits of finding and acting on early invasions. Additional funding would allow for greater public outreach, expanded operation of the reporting hotline, increased early detection monitoring, and improved capacity for rapid response to facilitate eradication. The committee recognizes that the goal of this recommendation—addressing all areas, habitats, and species—likely is beyond any reasonable expectation of resources, but keeping this goal in mind emphasizes the value of prevention and clarifies the magnitude of the challenge.
There is no systemwide mechanism for prioritizing research on and management of invasive species. Many agencies participating in the Everglades restoration already undertake research activities on certain nonnative species and also implement management activities, but these efforts are limited by insufficient resources and are typically driven by specific agency needs rather than systemwide priorities. Effective prioritization requires a comprehensive understanding of all nonnative species present in the Everglades, their impacts and threats, as well as those of impending or likely new arrivals.
Research is lacking on nonnative species and their impacts to adequately inform prioritization efforts. Many knowledge gaps exist about species considered to be priorities for management. Given the spatial extent of the problem and the threats of future invasions, substantial research is needed to assess the various impacts of nonnative species on ecosystem functioning and native species and to develop or improve control mechanisms. This does not mean comprehensive research on all details of the biology and effects of every nonnative species. Rather, enough basic information should be gathered systematically to determine which species could reasonably be predicted to have considerable ecological impacts. Such knowledge is important in guiding decisions on detailed research on possible impacts and management of particular threats and would help inform priorities for management actions.
If eradication proves impossible, maintenance management and long-term control at acceptable levels should be explicitly recognized as a goal in some cases. Indeed, current practice seems to implicitly recognize this goal. Maintenance management at low densities is sometimes possible by various combinations of biological, chemical, mechanical, and physical controls. In the Everglades, a striking example is the current management of melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia), once thought too widespread and dense to be manageable. As a result of sustained intensive research, this species is currently under substantial control in most regions through a combination of mechanical,
chemical, and biological control as well as prescribed burns. Maintenance management requires continued, diligent monitoring and flexible, but reliable funding that can be devoted strategically to achieve and maintain long-term control.
At every step of the CERP planning process, full consideration is needed of the implications of restoration activities for nonnative species and their impacts. Until very recently, invasive species have not been considered in CERP project planning and implementation beyond simply removing any invasive species encountered at construction sites. Ideally, hydrologic restoration should favor the reestablishment and expansion of many native wetland species that are better adapted to longer hydroperiods. However, aquatic and flood-tolerant nonnative species may also benefit and replace native species. Removing levees and filling in canals may, in certain circumstances, facilitate the spread of nonnative species by increasing their potential for dispersal. For each CERP project, the potential to increase the spread of invasive species should be examined and the effects on ecosystem functioning assessed. Based on this analysis, strategies and technologies to lessen these impacts should be appropriately considered. Recent CERP guidance and plans to implement national USACE invasive species policy indicate that these considerations are increasingly being incorporated into project planning and implementation, although it is too soon to evaluate this new approach.
Long-term monitoring and research are needed to understand the potential impacts of climate change on Everglades nonnative species management. Climate change has the potential to significantly impact the distributions and abundances of nonnative species in the Everglades and their impacts on the ecosystem as a whole. Thus, research and monitoring to understand long-term changes in nonnative species distribution and behavior and the effectiveness of maintenance control strategies in the context of climate change are needed.
SCIENCE AND DECISION MAKING
Useful long-term systemwide monitoring requires stable funding. If funding cuts result in significant gaps in critical long-term monitoring data, important changes and patterns could be missed, and data collected prior to or after the funding gaps could lose their value. Given the substantial financial investment in Everglades restoration by both the state and the federal government, a dedicated source of funding could provide ongoing long-term systemwide monitoring and assessment that are critical to meeting restoration objectives, ensuring that public resources are spent wisely and adaptive management is supported.
A comprehensive reevaluation of restoration-related monitoring is needed to determine its adequacy considering budget pressures, the extended CERP implementation time frames, and the potential impacts of climate change and
sea-level rise. The dramatic 2011 cuts to Monitoring and Assessment Plan funding create a risk that adequate long-term data will not be available to assess the effects of restoration projects in a systemwide context once they are implemented. This reevalution should clearly articulate the value of the highest priority monitoring to future restoration decision making and the risks of ceasing such monitoring. Also, CERP planners should identify opportunities for improving the efficiency of current monitoring and reducing the frequency of some monitoring in the context of the current slow pace of CERP implementation.
Renewed attention to science coordination is warranted. Scientific research and monitoring programs require coordination and communication to be effective and efficient, but science leadership and coordination appear to have waned over the past few years. For the Science Coordination Group to contribute significantly to better science coordination, it would need to have adequate funding and staff and a clear charge to address critical science needs from a restoration-wide perspective.