The Florida Everglades, formerly a large and diverse aquatic ecosystem, has been dramatically altered during the past century by an extensive water control infrastructure designed to increase regional economic productivity through improved flood management, urban water supply, and agricultural production (Davis and Ogden, 1994). 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 seventh 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 provided scientific and technical advice related to the Everglades restoration since 1999. The National Academies’ Committee on 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 National 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 six biennial reviews (NASEM, 2016; 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).
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 (NASEM, 2016; NRC, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014) and emphasizes restoration progress since 2016, 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 new information impacting the CERP (NASEM, 2016), climate change (NASEM, 2016; NRC, 2014), invasive species (NRC, 2014), science synthesis (NRC, 2012), the human context for the CERP (NRC, 2010), economic valuation of ecosystem services (NRC, 2010), water quality and quantity challenges and trajectories (NRC, 2010, 2012), Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park (NRC, 2008), Lake Okeechobee (NRC, 2008), and incremental adaptive restoration (NRC, 2007). Past reports have also discussed various aspects of the CERP monitoring and assessment plan (NRC, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014).
The committee met in person 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). In addition to information received during 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 were also 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 May 2018.
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 natural system restoration progress associated with CERP and non-CERP projects, along with programmatic factors and planning efforts that affect future progress.
In Chapter 4, the committee performs an in-depth review of CERP monitoring, with particular emphasis on project-level monitoring and assessment.
In Chapter 5, the committee synthesizes recent information on Lake Okeechobee and the effect of water levels on lake ecology to inform forward-looking systemwide planning and operations decisions.
In Chapter 6, the committee discusses the value of a mid-course assessment of the CERP and research on future stressors to support restoration decision making.
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