Water quality worsening, endangered species dwindling in ‘river of grass’
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — The latest official report on restoration efforts in the Everglades shows worsening water quality and a decline of endangered snail kite populations, making it clear how difficult it is to repair ecosystem damage.
Although the report outlines some successes in the area of research and collaboration, the main conclusion is that it’s critical to accelerate ecological improvements in Florida’s vast river of grass. In one disturbing finding, the report concluded that stormwater treatment is nsufficient to treat existing water flow in the Everglades Protection Area.
“One of the main objectives in restoring the Everglades is ‘getting the water right,’ which calls for increasing the amount of freshwater that flows through the system while meeting water quality goals,” said Frank Davis, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“But, getting enough water to the right places at the right time and attaining water quality goals throughout the entire ecosystem is proving to be more difficult and expensive than originally anticipated. It will likely take several decades and a continued commitment to systemwide pollution management, storage, and water quality treatment.”
The report is the third biennial evaluation of progress made by the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint federal and state project that aims to reverse the ecosystem’s decline while continuing to meet growing demands for clean water and flood control. Launched in 2000 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, CERP is a multiorganization planning process that comprises approximately 50 major projects to be completed over the next several decades.
After assessing the overall efforts to restore the southern Florida ecosystem, the committee concluded that, although progress has been slow over the past two years, improvements have been made in the pace of implementation, the relationship between federal and state partners, and research efforts. Several projects that serve as foundations to the plan are also under way, most notably the 1-mile Tamiami Trail bridge. However, only sparse natural system restoration benefits have resulted to date from the current construction.
The committee also found that the reduced area and natural water storage capacity of the modern Everglades make evenly distributed restoration infeasible. Conditions may even worsen in some areas to achieve the desired outcomes in others. The additional treatment facilities needed would cost about $1.1 billion to build and $27 million per year to operate and maintain.