Environment: Fast-track Everglades restoration planned

Planning effort aims to restore critical flows and protect water quality

An egret roams a cypress grove in Everglades National Park. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new fast-track planning effort involving state and federal agencies could speed recovery of the Everglades ecoystem — if Congress authorizes the effort.

Specifically the Central Everglades planning process will evaluate opportunities to use publicly owned lands to store and treat water in the Everglades Agricultural Area and move the water south to the Water Conservation Areas and Everglades National Park. That could help restore a more natural hydrological regime to the greater ecoystem.

There is a need to move water south and allow more flow in the Central Everglades and Everglades National Park which is extremely critical to the health of the entire Everglades ecosystem. In addition to this major planning effort, state and federal agencies are working on measures to ensure that existing waters flowing into the Everglades meet water quality standards.

“The Everglades is one of the world’s largest ecosystem restoration projects, and this planning effort will provide a roadmap for the next decade on how we restore the River of Grass in perpetuity.” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

“We are working to restore and protect not only a vital ecosystem, but also an important part of Florida’s history and culture. An important part of our ongoing and future restoration efforts will be protecting water quality.” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The Everglades is an important environmental treasure, a major tourism attraction and an economic driver, this new process moves us closer to a lasting restoration.”

The collaborative planning includes the Department of the Army, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Florida, including the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the Interior Department, the planning process will build on three years of unprecedented restoration progress between the federal government and the State of Florida including groundbreakings for six comprehensive Everglades restoration plan projects. This includes substantial construction progress on the first mile of bridging of Tamiami Trail, aimed at restoring natural flows.

The Central Everglades planning process will analyze alternatives that will reduce the discharge of water currently damaging the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and provide more natural flow and depths of clean new water through the Central Everglades and the Everglades National Park.

The fast-tracked planning process is a pilot program that the Army Corps of Engineers is initiating elsewhere in the country, designed to yield restoration benefits at an efficient rate.

The planning effort responds directly to the 2008 and 2010 recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences and restoration scientists who recognize the need to address unnatural water levels in the water conservation areas and Everglades National Park as one of the biggest challenges facing restoration managers.

The Task Force meeting highlighted the many critical restoration efforts happening throughout the ecosystem, and the opportunities for next steps in restoration. In particular, major initiatives along the Tamiami Trail, Northern Everglades, and other initiatives have shown that there are opportunities to increase the flow of clean water into the Central Everglades, using a variety of project elements.

“The Central Everglades planning initiative provides Florida with an opportunity to build upon the significant investments we’ve already made toward protecting and preserving America’s Everglades.” said Rick Scott, Governor of Florida. “It also reaffirms the state’s commitment to working collaboratively with our federal partners to pursue a solution that sustains both our economy and our natural resources.”

For more information on the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, visit: http://www.sfrestore.org/tf/documents/handouts_tf.html

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