Everglades restoration could take 65 years

OKEECHOBEE — At the rate we’re going, the restoration of the Everglades should be complete around 2083.

That’s the conclusion of the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress in The Seventh Biennial Review released Oct. 17.

v This chart shows the progress of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects that have made it as far as the planning stage. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

According to the biennial review, if federal funding for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects continues at recent 5-year average levels and is matched 50-50 by the state, about $155 million is available annually.

It will take 65 years to complete the currently authorized projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) at that funding level.

If the annual funding were increased to $312 million (the amount appropriated in 2018), the time line for completion of currently authorized projects would be still be more than 30 years.

That estimate is just for projects already authorized. Completion of projects in planning or currently unplanned CERP projects would lengthen that timeline, the report states.

CERP, approved in 2000 by the U.S. Congress was originally expected to take about 30 years.

Federal funding shortfalls have slowed the progress. Decisions made by Florida officials that resulted in changes and delays in projects have also hurt the timeline.

According to the report, recent CERP project and program cost estimates, including only authorized projects, were approximately $12.3 billion. About $3 billion of that was funded through Fiscal Year 2016, leaving a balance of roughly $9 billion.

The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir will add $1.3 billion to the total, and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project is estimated to add another $1.4 billion. Two other projects in planning — the Western Everglades Restoration Project and the Loxahatchee River Watershed Project — do not yet have tentatively selected plans or cost estimates, the report continues. Estimation of annual funding requirements necessary to pay for these projects is dependent on the scheduling and final project costs.

Water conditions have changed since 2000 when CERP was approved by Congress, the report notes. Conditions will continue to change in the coming decades. The committee recommends adjusting CERP, which was based on the historic water conditions, to reflect current conditions.

“During the past century, the Everglades, one of the world’s treasured ecosystems, has been dramatically altered by drainage and water management infrastructure that was intended to improve flood management, urban water supply, and agricultural production,” the report explains. “The remnants of the original Everglades now compete for water with urban and agricultural interests and are impaired by contaminated runoff from these two sectors. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint effort launched by the state and the federal government in 2000, seeks to reverse the decline of the ecosystem. The multibillion-dollar project was originally envisioned as a 30- to 40-year effort to achieve ecological restoration by reestablishing the natural hydrologic characteristics of the Everglades, where feasible, and to create a water system that serves the needs of both the natural and the human systems of South Florida.

“A vision for planned CERP storage, at least in the northern portion of the system, is now becoming clear, although the future storage to be provided by Lake Okeechobee remains unresolved. Recent analysis has shown that coordination of operations can make more effective use of available water, potentially reducing the amount of CERP storage needed to achieve successful restoration. However, the systemwide implications of the new projects, which have been in planning concurrently, have not been assessed.

“Improvements to the monitoring and assessment program, at both project and systemwide scales, are recommended to increase the usefulness of monitoring data for CERP decision makers.

“Eighteen years into the CERP, the committee recommends a mid-course assessment that analyzes projected CERP outcomes in the context of future stressors. Rather than continuing its primary focus on restoring pre-drainage conditions and basing decisions on the ability to achieve those conditions under contemporary climate (1965-2005), the CERP program should emphasize restoration focused on the future of the South Florida ecosystem and build upon the accumulating knowledge base to support successful implementation of this program.”

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