Summary of Hearings on Everglades Restoration (7-23-04)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment met July 22nd to assess the progress of Everglades restoration and discuss the authorization of two large-scale projects. Witnesses from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida, and environmental and science groups testified in support of the reauthorization of the Indian River Lagoon and Southern Golden Gates Estates projects, which will cost $1.2 billion and $360 million. Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) also provided testimony to the subcommittee in support of the projects.
The $8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000, provides a framework for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore the South Florida ecosystem. Nine smaller Everglades restoration projects are already in process or completed, although larger projects such as Indian River Lagoon and Southern Golden Gates must be authorized individually. Witnesses urged the subcommittee swift authorization of project funds, even though actual appropriations may not be available until FY 06.
The Indian River Lagoon project has received a significant amount of local support. Martin County, Florida, residents voted for an increased sales tax to provide nearly $50 million for necessary land purchases. Under WRDA, states and the federal government provide matching funds for restoration projects, although land acquisitions are not counted as project expenditures. To date, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent an estimated $150 million on Everglades restoration, while the Florida has spent about $915 including critical land acquisition.
Witnesses testified that the two projects up for authorization are critical to Everglades restoration. The Indian River Lagoon project aims to redirect and store water directed into wetlands by an earlier U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control program. The water will be used in other areas where it is needed. The Golden Gates project will restore wetlands and improve salinization problems. Witnesses emphasized benefits to the local economy, water supply, and flood prevention programs. Subcommittee chairman John Duncan (R-TN) and subcommittee members expressed support for authorization although they pressed witnesses for reassurance that the selected projects are the best places to direct funding. They maintained that the two projects were carefully chosen and will provide a significant boost to restoration efforts. John Burns, chairman of the independent scientific review panel that reviewed the Indian River Lagoon project, said that the panel saw nothing from a scientific perspective that should prevent authorization of the projects. The panel has made several recommendations for the for the Indian River site including modeling and evaluation of the following systems: climate, sea level, hydrologic cycle, ecology, and muck and sediment transport.
On March 26, 2003, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies held a hearing to examine the role of science in the comprehensive Everglades restoration project. Witnesses discussed two recent reports that examined various aspects of the Department of the Interior's (DOI) efforts in South Florida. The U.S. General Accounting Office released South Florida Ecosystem Restoration: Task Force Needs to Improve Science Coordination to Increase the Likelihood of Success at the meeting, and the National Research Council (NRC) witness discussed Science and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration, an NRC report that was released prior to the hearing.
Barry Hill testified that GAO identified gaps of vital scientific information in the Everglades restoration project. The knowledge gaps occurred at different levels, from the ecosystem level (e.g., the effects of invasive species, pesticides, and pollutants) to project levels (e.g., understanding water salinity in Biscayne Bay). Also, he said the Everglades project lacks the proper coordination, direction, and resourses needed to carry out its responsibility. Dr. Linda Blum, chaired the NRC panel focused on DOI's Critical Ecosystem Studies Initiative (CESI), reported that CESI has produced valuable knowledge, but needs to improve data synthesis in order to create a restoration-wide approach and aid in management and organization. Blum emphasized that synthesis is a scientific endeavor in itself and does not simply occur through data management.
During the question and answer session, many subcommittee members expressed concern about the lack of scientific coordination efforts and asked if DOI was an equal partner in the Everglades restoration project with the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers. Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) questioned whether DOI's science could play an important role in restoration since it did not appear to be an equal partner. Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA) said that he wanted to see DOI as an equal partner in the final regulations. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) voiced concern that the environmental interests are not being properly considered, and that DOI is not always at the table as a complete partner. He emphasized that DOI and the Army Corps of Engineers have different interests in the restoration efforts, and that DOI should be looking out for the interests of the nation. Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) mentioned that it is difficult to restore the Everglades without rolling back agriculture or other developments. Hill agreed with the subcommittee's comments, saying he was concerned that a lack of cohesion between agencies is resulting in a lack of a comprehensive ecosystem perspective. He suggested that the DOI needed an overall restoration science plan to identify the work that needs to be accomplished. Ann Klee, Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and counselor to Interior Secreatary Norton, adamantly defended the DOI's role in the Everglades restoration project, especially in the Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) program, which includes a large scientific component. She conceded that the Science Coordination Team was underutilized, but stated that this was because the past two years have been spent developing a legal framework for the Everglades project.
The implementation of better adaptive management
techniques was also discussed at length. Klee told the subcommittee
that adaptive management will help the task force evaluate where
science is lacking and to appropriately prioritize the 68 Everglades
projects. She also said adaptive management would help improve
implementation within the overall priorities if the projects
are designed to incorporate engineering flexibility. Dicks asked
if a lead scientist was needed to provide better coordination.
Klee said a lead scientist was not needed. The task force is
aware that it might not have all the science before starting
a particular project, but Klee believes adaptive management
will aid them to incorporate developing science and to examine
priorities on an iterative schedule. Blum commented that the
ecosystem holds many undiscovered surprises, and therefore it
is important to continue to pursue science throughout the restoration
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern and Bridget Martin, 2004 Summer AIPG/AGI Intern.
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Last updated on July 23, 2004