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Date: Sept. 29, 2008
Contacts: Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer
Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Effort to Restore Everglades Making Scant Progress;
To Meet Goals, Planners Should Move Forward With Most Essential Projects First
WASHINGTON -- Budgeting, planning, and procedural matters are hindering a federal and state effort to restore the Florida Everglades ecosystem, which is making only scant progress toward achieving its goals, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council. Good science has been developed to support restoration efforts, but future progress is likely to be limited by the availability of funding and current authorization mechanisms. To begin reversing decades of decline, managers should address complex planning issues and move forward with projects that have the most potential to restore the natural ecosystem.
The report is the second biennial evaluation of progress being made in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a multibillion-dollar effort to restore historical water flows to the Everglades and return the ecosystem closer to its natural state. 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 includes approximately 50 major projects to be completed over the next several decades.
"The attempt to restore an ecosystem as large and elaborate as the Everglades is an unprecedented challenge, but if this vision is to be realized, demonstrable progress needs to come soon," said William Graf, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and professor and chair of the department of geography at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. "Although the science and engineering that support the program have been high quality, the ecosystem will continue to lose some vital parts if CERP continues on its present course."
While assessing the overall CERP and non-CERP efforts to restore the South Florida ecosystem, the committee concluded that ongoing delays in restoration have postponed improving the quality, quantity, timing, distribution, and flow of water in the Everglades and thus have allowed ecological decline to continue. The numerous delays in implementing the "Mod Waters" project, authorized nearly 20 years ago to restore flows to the northeastern portion of Everglades National Park, have been particularly discouraging. Meanwhile, construction costs continue to rise, and population growth and associated development make restoration increasingly difficult. Unless near-term progress is achieved on major restoration initiatives, the Everglades will likely face further loss of species and habitat deterioration, which could be difficult or impossible to reverse.
Although overall restoration efforts have been delayed, nearly all elements needed for CERP to implement a decision-making framework using adaptive management have been produced, including approaches for performance assessment, conceptual ecological models, an information and data management system, and the Interagency Modeling Center to support assessment and planning. The CERP adaptive management scheme could be improved by maintaining ecological monitoring as a priority, and further developing and better integrating hydrologic, ecological, and water quality modeling tools to support CERP decision making and ecosystem management.
Despite the accomplishments that lay the foundation for CERP construction, no CERP projects have been completed to date, the report says. The start of construction for some CERP projects is encouraging, but many CERP and non-CERP projects have been delayed far behind their target completion dates. As of July 2008, four pilot projects were in an installation and testing phase and at least four CERP projects were under construction, with more projects in the planning stage. Nevertheless, the results of some non-CERP restoration efforts, such as the Kissimmee River restoration, demonstrate that restoration is possible in the Everglades region when projects are implemented.
A major cause of delay for CERP projects is the complex federal planning and approval process, and the slow pace of federal funding has largely been a symptom of this problem. The committee recommended that the federal government consider departing from traditional project-by-project review, authorization, and yearly funding to provide assured funds over a multiple-year period. However, both state and federal partners are facing budget constraints that also threaten to impede progress. While planning and subsequent delivery of funding have lagged, the anticipated total costs have increased and will likely continue to grow due to inflation, changes in project scope, the tangled design and planning process, higher land costs, and unexpected rises in building costs.
In addition, deficiencies in CERP systemwide planning -- including a lack of a systematic approach to analyze costs and benefits across multiple projects -- are affecting the program. Without clear priorities, projects with great restoration potential could see lengthy delays while other, less contentious projects that address only isolated portions of the ecosystem may tie up available funding. Therefore, CERP planners should prioritize and properly sequence projects so that public funds are allocated by the degree to which the projects are essential to restoration, rather than by local stakeholder support.
To move forward on CERP projects, the state of Florida should continue its active land acquisition efforts. The committee commended the state for its financial support in acquiring important parcels, including the recent announcement of the potential purchase of the U.S. Sugar Corp.'s 187,000 acres of land. The acquisition of this land could be important to help meet the broad restoration goals, but because of uncertainty in the timing and structure of the purchase and the possibility of numerous land exchanges made after the purchase, direct effects of the deal are impossible to predict at this stage, and may not be seen for a decade or longer.
The report was sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District, and U.S. Department of the Interior. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.
Copies of Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review 2008 are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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[This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Water Science and Technology Board
Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress
William L. Graf (chair)
Foundation University Professor and Chair
Department of Geography
University of South Carolina
Linda K. Blum
Research Associate Professor
Department of Environmental Sciences
University of Virginia
Donald F. Boesch
Professor of Marine Science, and
Center for Environmental Science
University of Maryland
Steven R. Beissinger
A. Starker Leopold Chair of Wildlife Biology, and
Division of Ecosystems Sciences
Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of California
Frank W. Davis
Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and
University of California
Charles T. Driscoll *
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Joan G. Ehrenfeld
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
Cook College of Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.
Chris T. Hendrickson
Duquesne Light Company Professor of Engineering, and
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University
William P. Horn
Birch, Horton, Bittner, and Cherot
Wayne C. Huber
Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering
Oregon State University
David H. Moreau
Departments of City and Regional Planning, and Environmental Sciences and Engineering
University of North Carolina
Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering
K. Ramesh Reddy
Graduate Research Professor and Chair
Department of Soil and Water Science
University of Florida
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF