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Everglades Policy (3-24-05)

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The Everglades is a wetland system in South Florida comprised in part of the Florida Bay, Everglades National Park and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Due to the effects of development, construction, agriculture, and landscape changes for flood control, the Everglades has shrunk to one-third of its original size with a substantial decrease in water quality. Since federal involvement in Everglades restoration began in the 1980's, the scope of the restoration and the number of stakeholders in the projects have greatly increased. Recent efforts to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program have focused measures on restoration of the ecosystem instead of supporting agriculture and controlling the water supply. As restoration moves forward, earth scientists provide key understanding of aquifer recovery, mapping the freshwater-saltwater interface through time, and tracking chemical changes of groundwater.

Recent Action

On March 22, 2005, Greenwire reported that an internal agency memo, sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) employees and leaked to the public, shows the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) to be severely behind schedule and over-budget. In the March 7, 2005 memo, Gary Hardesty, USACE's top Everglades manager, coached employees who are responsible for preparing a 5-year progress report: "We need to be careful to avoid having this report read overly optimistic in tone…while the Congress may have a different impression. We need to be truthful." Hardesty wrote that not a single project planned for the first five years had been built, and the budget for the first four projects had already increased by $1 billion. According to Greenwire, agency officials estimate the project will cost $5.4 billion more than planned.

"We do need to talk about all that we’ve done since 1999, yes, but keep in mind …it’s different from what we told Congress we would do...and its not restoration!!! It is far more important that the 5-Year Report focus more on the strategic direction of the program over the next five years to rebuild Congressional confidence or we may lose support and ultimately program funding," Hardesty instructed. (3/24/05)

Previous Action

The U.S. EPA approved Florida's cleanup plan for phosphorous pollution in the Everglades, saying in late January it is in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Despite objections from environmentalists and the Miccosukee Indian Tribe, EPA said it would review cleanup projects on a permit-by-permit basis to guarantee compliance with the Clean Water Act. EPA said the state must agree to use the best technology available and is considered in compliance as long as cleanup officials continue to make progress.

EPA officials did not approve of Florida's plan to protect the 147,000-acre Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County, saying the 14 proposed monitors in the refuge were not enough.

Greenwire reported that in 2003, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) signed a bill giving the sugar industry until 2016 to lower phosphorus levels in the Everglades to 10 parts per billion. The previous deadline had been 2006. The sugar industry and state officials had lobbied for delaying the deadlines because they said the technical demands of meeting those regulations would take longer than originally thought. But several members of Congress have warned the bill could imperil the $8.4 billion federal-state restoration effort.

Representatives from the agriculture industry, which together with suburban areas create the majority of phosphorus pollution flowing to the Everglades, told Greenwire they were pleased with the outcome. However, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Miccosukee Indian Tribe lawyer Dexter Lehtinen said the plan is too weak and puts an unfair burden on the tribe, which leases land in the Everglades. In June 2004, the Miccosukee Tribe and Friends of the Everglades filed suit in federal court against EPA for failing to review the phosphorous rules. According to the Miami Herlad, the case is expected to come before Judge Frederico Moreno of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida as soon as March. (1/27/05)

Land acquisition should be the No. 1 priority in the 30-year, $84 billion Everglades restoration project, according to a National Academy of Sciences report released on January 24th. "The worst from the point of view of Everglades restoration would be commercial, residential and industrial development of the area," states the report. "The whole plan as it is designed is predicated on being able to have land that can be restored," said Jean Bahr, a University of Washington hydroecologist and head of the research team. "The more land that gets taken out of the potential restoration pot, the less likely the success."

Greenwire reported that environmentalists applauded this recommendation and others, including the need for more above ground natural water storage options, should underground engineered storage prove inadequate. "The scientists are saying exactly what the environmental community has been saying for years," John Adornato of the National parks Conservation Association told Greenwire. "The bottom line is, we need more surface water storage."

However, both environmental groups and state water managers found fault with NAS's recommendation to increase storage at Lake Okeechobee. Chip Merriam, deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) told Greenwire that simply wasn't an option. The 14-member review panel of the National Research Council recommended looking at using the lake and the 500,000 acre Everglades Agricultural Area "in ways that are not now part of the [restoration] plan."

Environmentalists and biologists have protested previous efforts to raise Lake Okeechobee water levels because of threats to the lake's marsh habitat and oyster populations in downstream estuaries. Lake managers -- the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps of Engineers -- have tried to keep levels down since protests over flooding in the late 1990s.

"We're kind of leading with our hearts and our checkbooks," said Merriam told the Associated Press. Progress has been made already. For instance, the Miami Herald reported that SFWMD has purchased more than 50 percent of the land originally deemed essential to restoration, in addition to accelerating eight water storage and restoration projects at a cost of $1.5 billion. (1/27/05)

Background

South Florida's ecosystem is defined by the Everglades -- a subtropical wetland that includes 16 national wildlife refuges, four nation park units, 6.5 million people, and a large agricultural economy. Originally seen an unproductive swamp, the Army Corps of Engineers's Central and Southern Florida project contained and redirected the water in 1950's and 1960's to control floods and encourage urban and agricultural development. Today, instead of a sheet of water slowly flowing south from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, water dominantly flows east-west through 1000 miles of canals, 720 miles of levees, and almost 200 water control structures. The change in water flow has resulted in a reduction of water flow to the Florida Bay, southern Florida receiving too much water during the rainy season and too little during the dry, and the Everglades decreasing to half of its original size with a degraded water quality.

Federal efforts to restore the South Florida's ecosystem began in the 1980's, mostly though the coordination of the Army Corps of Engineers. As restoration efforts continued and other agencies became increasingly involved, Congress formally created the South Florida Restoration Task Force in the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 to coordinate the restoration. The task force, which includes state, local, and tribal members, with the Secretary of the Interior as the group's chair, is charged with developing consistent policies, strategies, plans, priorities, and actions for restoring the Everglades. The developed plan, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), was approved by Congress in the 2000. CERP identified three restoration goals: to "get the water right" by restoring natural hydrologic functions and water quality; to restore, preserve, and protect natural habitats and species; and to foster compatibility of built and natural systems. To accomplish these goals, the Task Force has identified over 200 projects to be completed over the next 50 years at a cost of $15 billion.

On May 21, 2003, Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) signed legislation (S.B. 054A) that would revise the state's Everglades clean-up plan. The bill will extend the time frame over which phosphorus levels in the Everglades' water must be lowered to 10 parts per billion (ppb) from 2006 to 2012. On May 27, 2003, the legislation passed the state Senate by a vote of 43-4 and the state House by a vote of 96-18.

Congress responded to this move in the report (H. Rept. 108-195) accompanying the Fiscal Year 2004 Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 2691), which expressed concern that the changes to Florida's 1994 Everglades Forever Act threaten the future of Everglades restoration. Clearly stating its position on the State bill and rulemaking process, the Appropriations Committee calls for "clean water by December 2006, no mixing zones, no relief from achieving the 10 parts per billion standard, and restoring integrity to the process." The bill includes stipulations that Federal funding for Everglades restoration be linked to specific progress on improving water quality.

Background information was taken from http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/wetlands.html.

Sources: Associated Press, Greenwire, National Academy of Sciences, The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Contributed by David Millar, 2004 AGI/AAPG Fall Semster Intern; Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on March 24, 2005.

 

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