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 supported a high diversity of plant and animal habitats. 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 large-scale restoration planning in the 1990s and the launch of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in 2000. This unprecedented project envisioned the expenditure of billions of dollars in a multidecadal 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 sixth independent assessment of the CERP’s progress by the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES AND EVERGLADES RESTORATION
The National Academies has been providing scientific and technical advice related to the Everglades restoration since 1999. The Academies’ 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 Task Force (hereafter, simply the 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 Academies’ 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, 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 National Academies’ CISRERP was therefore established in 2004 under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After publication of each of the first five biennial reviews (NRC, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014; 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:
- An assessment of progress in restoring the natural system, which is defined by section 601(a) of WRDA 2000 as all the land and water managed by the federal government and state within the South Florida ecosystem (see Figure 1-3 and Box 1-1);
- A discussion of significant accomplishments of the restoration;
- 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
- 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, 2012, 2014) and emphasizes restoration progress since 2014, high-priority scientific and engineering issues that the committee judged to be relevant to this time frame, 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 time frames—and on topics that had not been fully addressed in past National Academies’ Everglades reports. Interested readers should look to past reports by this committee to find detailed discussions of important topics, such as climate change (NRC, 2014), invasive species (NRC, 2014), the human context for the CERP (NRC, 2010), water quality and
quantity challenges and trajectories (NRC, 2010, 2012), Lake Okeechobee (NRC, 2008), Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park (NRC, 2008), and incremental adaptive restoration (NRC, 2007), which are not repeated here. Past reports have also discussed various aspects of the CERP monitoring and assessment plan (NRC, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014); in this report the committee addresses new developments in monitoring, assessment, and adaptive management, as well as lessons learned.
The committee met five 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 August 2016.
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.
In Chapter 3, the committee analyzes the progress of CERP implementation, including recent developments on authorized projects and two pilot projects, as well as major non-CERP projects with important implications for the CERP. Also discussed in the chapter are programmatic progress and issues, including funding, sequencing, and strategies for addressing conflicting restoration objectives.
In Chapter 4, the committee discusses three major areas where knowledge has been gained since the launch of the CERP that have substantial implications for systemwide CERP outcomes. Much has been learned in the areas of predrainage hydrology, climate change and sea level rise, and the feasibility of CERP storage alternatives that influences the future benefits of the CERP as originally designed.
In Chapter 5, steps to incorporate knowledge gained (Chapter 4) using a systemwide adaptive management framework are proposed. A forward-looking systemwide assessment, including a CERP Update based on current authorized projects and likely feasible future projects, is an essential step of this process.
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