Review of the Everglades Aquifer Storage and Recovery Regional Study (2015)
Increasing water storage is a critical component of the restoration, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) included projects that would drill over 330 aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) wells to store up to 1.65 billion gallons per day in porous and permeable units in the aquifer system during wet periods for recovery during seasonal or longer-term dry periods. To address uncertainties regarding regional effects of large-scale ASR implementation in the Everglades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the South Florida Water Management District conducted an 11-year ASR Regional Study, with focus on the hydrogeology of the Floridan aquifer system, water quality changes during aquifer storage, possible ecological risks posed by recovered water, and the regional capacity for ASR implementation. At the request of the USACE, this report, authored by the National Research Council (NRC) Committee to Review the Florida Aquifer Storage and Recovery Regional Study Technical Data Report, assesses progress in reducing uncertainties related to full-scale CERP ASR implementation. This report considers the validity of the data collection and interpretation methods; integration of studies; evaluation of scaling from pilot-to regional-scale application of ASR; and the adequacy and reliability of the study as a basis for future applications of ASR.
Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Fifth Biennial Review, 2014 (2014)
This report is the fifth biennial evaluation of progress being made in the CERP, authored by the NRC Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress. Despite exceptional project planning accom-
plishments, over the past 2 years progress toward restoring the Everglades has been slowed by frustrating financial and procedural constraints. The Central Everglades Planning Project is an impressive strategy to accelerate Everglades restoration and avert further degradation by increasing water flow to the ecosystem. However, timely authorization, funding, and creative policy and implementation strategies will be essential to realize important near-term restoration benefits. At the same time, climate change and the invasion of non-native plant and animal species further challenge the Everglades ecosystem. The impacts of changing climate—especially sea level rise—add urgency to restoration efforts to make the Everglades more resilient to changing conditions.
Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Fourth Biennial Review, 2012 (2012)
The 2012 biennial report finds that 12 years into the CERP, little progress has been made in restoring the core of the remaining Everglades ecosystem; instead, most project construction so far has occurred along its periphery. To reverse ongoing ecosystem declines, it will be necessary to expedite restoration projects that target the central Everglades, and to improve both the quality and quantity of the water in the ecosystem. The new Central Everglades Planning Project offers an innovative approach to this challenge, although additional analyses are needed at the interface of water quality and water quantity to maximize restoration benefits within existing legal constraints.
Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Third Biennial Review, 2010 (2010)
The 2010 biennial report finds that while natural system restoration progress from CERP remains slow, in the past 2 years, there have been noteworthy improvements in the pace of implementation and in the relationship between the federal and state partners. Continued public support and political commitment to long-term funding will be needed for the restoration plan to be completed. The science program continues to address important issues, but more transparent mechanisms for integrating science into decision making are needed. Despite such progress, several important challenges related to water quality and water quantity have become increasingly clear, highlighting the difficulty of achieving restoration goals simultaneously for all ecosystem components. Achieving these goals will be enormously costly and will take decades at least. Rigorous scientific analyses of potential conflicts among the hydrologic requirements of Everglades landscape features and species, and the tradeoffs between water quality and quantity, considering timescales of reversibility, are needed to inform
future prioritization and funding decisions. Understanding and communicating these tradeoffs to stakeholders are critical.
Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review, 2008 (2008)
The report concludes that budgeting, planning, and procedural matters are hindering a federal and state effort to restore the Florida Everglades ecosystem, which is making only scant progress toward achieving its goals. Good science has been developed to support restoration efforts, but future progress is likely to be limited by the availability of funding and current authorization mechanisms. Despite the accomplishments that lay the foundation for CERP construction, no CERP projects have been completed to date. To begin reversing decades of decline, managers should address complex planning issues and move forward with projects that have the most potential to restore the natural ecosystem.
Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The First Biennial Review, 2006 (2007)
This report is the first in a congressionally mandated series of biennial evaluations of the progress being made by the CERP. The report finds that progress has been made in developing the scientific basis and management structures needed to support a massive effort to restore the Florida Everglades ecosystem. However, some important projects have been delayed due to several factors including budgetary restrictions and a project planning process that can be stalled by unresolved scientific uncertainties. The report outlines an alternative approach that can help the initiative move forward even as it resolves remaining scientific uncertainties. The report calls for a boost in the rate of federal spending if the restoration of Everglades National Park and other projects are to be completed on schedule.
Re-engineering Water Storage in the Everglades: Risks and Opportunities (2005)
Human settlements and flood control structures have significantly reduced the Everglades, which once encompassed more than 3 million acres of slow-moving water enriched by a diverse biota. The CERP was formulated in 1999 with the goal of restoring the original hydrologic conditions of the remaining Everglades. A major feature of this plan is providing enough storage capacity to meet human and ecological needs. This report reviews and evaluates not only storage options included in the plan, but also other options not considered in
the plan. Along with providing hydrologic and ecological analyses of the size, location, and functioning of water storage components, the report also discusses and makes recommendations on related critical factors, such as timing of land acquisition, intermediate states of restoration, and tradeoffs among competing goals and ecosystem objectives.
The CERP imposes some constraints on sequencing of its components. The report concludes that two criteria are most important in deciding how to sequence components of such a restoration project: (1) protecting against additional habitat loss by acquiring or protecting critical lands in and around the Everglades and (2) providing ecological benefits as early as possible.
There is a considerable range in the degree to which various proposed storage components involve complex design and construction measures, rely on active controls and frequent equipment maintenance, and require fossil fuels or other energy sources for operation. The report recommends that, to the extent possible, the CERP should develop storage components that have fewer of those requirements, and are thus less vulnerable to failure and more likely to be sustainable in the long term.
Further, as new information becomes available and as the effectiveness and feasibility of various restoration components become clearer, some of the earlier adaptation and compromises might need to be revisited. The report recommends that methods be developed to allow tradeoffs to be assessed over broad spatial and long temporal scales, especially for the entire ecosystem, and gives an example of what an overall performance indicator for the Everglades system might look like.
Adaptive Monitoring and Assessment for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (2003)
A key premise of the CERP is that restoring the historical hydrologic regime in the remaining wetlands will reverse declines in many native species and biological communities. Given the uncertainties that will attend future responses of Everglades ecosystems to restored water regimes, a research, monitoring, and adaptive management program is planned. This report assessed the extent to which the restoration effort’s “monitoring and assessment plan” included the following elements crucial to any adaptive management scheme: (1) clear restoration goals and targets, (2) a sound baseline description and conceptualization of the system, (3) an effective process for learning from management actions, and (4) feedback mechanisms for improving management based on the learning process.
The report concludes that monitoring needs must be prioritized, because many goals and targets that have been agreed to may not be achievable or inter-
nally consistent. Priorities could be established based on the degree of flexibility or reversibility of a component and its potential impact on future management decisions. Such a prioritization should be used for scheduling and sequencing of projects, for example. Monitoring that meets multiple objectives (e.g., adaptive management, regulatory compliance, and a “report card”) should be given priority.
Systemwide indicators at the ecosystem level should be developed, such as land-cover and land-use measures, an index of biotic integrity, and diversity measures. Regionwide monitoring of human and environmental drivers of the ecosystem, especially population growth, land-use change, water demand, and sea level rise are recommended. Monitoring, modeling, and research should be well integrated, especially with respect to defining the restoration reference state and using active adaptive management.
Does Water Flow Influence Everglades Landscape Patterns? (2003)
A commonly stated goal of the CERP is to “get the water right.” This has largely meant restoring the timing and duration of water levels and the water quality in the Everglades. Water flow (speed, discharge, direction) has been considered mainly in the coastal and estuarine system, but not elsewhere. Should the restoration plan be setting targets for flows in other parts of the Everglades as well?
There are legitimate reasons why flow velocities and discharges have thus far not received greater emphasis in the plan. These include a relative lack of field information and poor resolution of numerical models for flows. There are, however, compelling reasons to believe that flow has important influences in the central Everglades ecosystem. The most important reason is the existence of major ecologically important landforms—parallel ridges, sloughs, and “tree islands”—aligned with present and inferred past flow directions. There are difficulties in interpreting this evidence, however, as it is essentially circumstantial and not quantitative.
Alternative mechanisms by which flow may influence this landscape can to some extent be evaluated from short-term research on underlying bedrock topography, detailed surface topographic mapping, and accumulation rates of suspended organic matter. Nonetheless, more extensive and long-term research will also be necessary, beginning with the development of alternative conceptual models of the formation and maintenance of the landscape to guide a research program. Research on maintenance rather than evolution of the landscape should have higher priority because of its direct impact on restoration. Monitoring should be designed for the full range of flow conditions, including extreme events.
Overall, flows approximating historical discharges, velocities, timing, and distribution should be considered in restoration design, but quantitative flow-related performance measures are not appropriate until there is a better scientific understanding of the underlying science. At present, neither a minimum nor a maximum flow to preserve the landscape can be established.
Science and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration: An Assessment of the Critical Ecosystems Study Initiative (2003)
The Everglades represents a unique ecological treasure, and a diverse group of organizations is currently working to reverse the effects of nearly a century of wetland drainage and impoundment. The path to restoration will not be easy, but sound scientific information will increase the reliability of the restoration, help enable solutions for unanticipated problems, and potentially reduce long-term costs. The investment in scientific research relevant to restoration, however, decreased substantially within some agencies, including one major Department of the Interior (DOI) science program, the Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative (CESI). In response to concerns regarding declining levels of funding for scientific research and the adequacy of science-based support for restoration decision making, the U.S. Congress instructed the DOI to commission the National Academy of Sciences to review the scientific component of the CESI and provide recommendations for program management, strategic planning, and information dissemination.
Although improvements should be made, this report notes that the CESI has contributed useful science in support of the DOI’s resource stewardship interests and restoration responsibilities in South Florida. It recommends that the fundamental objectives of the CESI research program remain intact, with continued commitment to ecosystem research. Several improvements in CESI management are suggested, including broadening the distribution of requests for proposals and improving review standards for proposals and research products. The report asserts that funding for CESI science has been inconsistent and as of 2002 was less than that needed to support the DOI’s interests in and responsibilities for restoration. The development of a mechanism for comprehensive restoration-wide science coordination and synthesis is recommended to enable improved integration of scientific findings into restoration planning.
Florida Bay Research Programs and Their Relation to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (2002)
This report of the Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem (CROGEE) evaluated Florida Bay studies and restoration activities that
potentially affect the success of the CERP. Florida Bay is a large, shallow marine system immediately south of the Everglades, bounded by the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the water draining from the Everglades flows directly into northeast Florida Bay. Other freshwater drainage reaches the bay indirectly from the northwest.
For several decades until the late 1980s, clear water and dense seagrass meadows characterized most of Florida Bay. However, beginning around 1987, the seagrass beds began dying in the western and central bay. It is often assumed that increased flows to restore freshwater Everglades habitats will also help the restoration of Florida Bay. However, the CERP may actually result in higher salinities in central Florida Bay than exist presently, and thus exacerbate the ecological problems. Further, some percentage of the proposed increase in fresh surface-water flow discharging northwest of the bay will eventually reach the central bay, where its dissolved organic nitrogen may lead to algal blooms. Complicating the analysis of such issues is the lack of an operational bay circulation model.
The report notes the importance of additional research in the following areas: estimates of groundwater discharge to the bay; full characterization and quantification of surface runoff in major basins; transport and total loads of nitrogen and phosphorous from freshwater sources, especially in their organic forms; effects on nutrient fluxes of decreasing freshwater flows into the northeastern bay, and of increasing flows northwest of the bay; and the development of an operational Florida Bay circulation model to support a bay water quality model and facilitate analysis of CERP effects on the bay.
Regional Issues in Aquifer Storage and Recovery for Everglades Restoration: A Review of the ASR Regional Study Project Management Plan of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (2002)
The report reviews a comprehensive research plan on Everglades restoration drafted by federal and Florida officials that assesses a central feature of the restoration: a proposal to drill more than 300 wells funneling up to 1.7 billion gallons of water a day into underground aquifers, where it would be stored and then pumped back to the surface to replenish the Everglades during dry periods. The report says that the aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) research plan goes a long way to providing information needed to settle remaining technical questions and clearly responds to suggestions offered by scientists in Florida and in a previous report by the NRC.
Aquifer Storage and Recovery in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan: A Critique of the Pilot Projects and Related Plans for ASR in the Lake Okeechobee and Western Hillsboro Areas (2001)
ASR is a major component in the CERP, which was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The plan would use the upper Floridian aquifer to store large quantities of surface water and shallow groundwater during wet periods for recovery during droughts.
ASR may limit evaporation losses and permit recovery of large volumes of water during multiyear droughts. However, the proposed scale is unprecedented and little subsurface information has been compiled. Key unknowns include impacts on existing aquifer uses, suitability of source waters for recharge, and environmental and/or human health impacts due to water quality changes during subsurface storage.
To address these issues, the USACE and SFWMD proposed aquifer storage recharge pilot projects in two key areas. The CROGEE charge was to examine a draft of their plans from a perspective of adaptive management. The report concludes that regional hydrogeologic assessment should include development of a regional-scale groundwater flow model, extensive well drilling and water quality sampling, and a multiobjective approach to ASR facility siting. It also recommends that water quality studies include laboratory and field bioassays and ecotoxicological studies, studies to characterize organic carbon of the source water and anticipate its effects on subsurface biogeochemical processes, and laboratory studies. Finally, it recommends that pilot projects be part of adaptive assessment.