Everglades Background

Arial view of the EvergladesThe Everglades Ecosystem extends from the Chain of Lakes south of Orlando to the reefs beyond the Florida Keys, an area covering 18,000 square miles. Historically, freshwater moved south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay in a broad, slow moving sheet—120 miles long and 50 miles wide but less than a foot deep—creating the Everglades. Known as the River of Grass, the Everglades is the second largest wetland on the planet. The Everglades is an enormously rich ecosystem, providing habitat to hundreds of species of birds, fish and other wildlife. In the late 1800s, primitive canals were dug to drain the vast wetlands in south Florida. Additional alterations continued throughout the 20th century, as more than 1,700 miles of canals and levees vastly changed the landscape, interrupting the Everglades’ natural sheet flow and sending essential freshwater to sea. An astounding 2 million acres, or more than half the Everglades wetlands, were lost to development. Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the first to publicize the problems of the Everglades in 1947, describing an ecosystem that was beautiful yet already clearly suffering. Just one year later, in 1948, a massive project to provide essential flood protection and water management to south Florida was approved. While the Central and Southern Florida Project allowed the region’s rapid growth, it worsened the Everglades’ problems. The project includes about 1,000 miles of levees, 720 miles of canals and almost 200 water control structures. Much of the drained area became sugar farms or was heavily urbanized.

The project dramatically altered the timing, quantity and quality of the water delivered to the Everglades, resulting in severe and widespread ecological devastation. By the 1980s, drainage containing high levels of nutrients, phosphorous in particular, had degraded water quality significantly and caused additional damage. The Everglades has been reduced to about half of its original size. Freshwater flow has declined by 70 percent. Bird and wildlife populations have fallen dramatically; wading bird populations dropped by 90 percent over the life of the project.

Florida and Federal Partners Embark on Everglades Restoration

Grass from the EvergladesToday, a plan is underway to restore the magnificent River of Grass. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is capturing freshwater destined for sea—the Everglades’ lifeblood—and directing it back to the ecosystem to revitalize it. It is improving water supplies for people and farms, too. The nation’s largest such project, it will cost $10.9 billion and take more than 20 years to complete. The restoration plan will result in the recovery of a healthy, sustainable Everglades ecosystem by restoring the major characteristics that defined historic Everglades—its large size and its interconnected water system. By removing many miles of levees and canals and capturing water currently funneled to sea, the restoration plan will reestablish the essential defining features of the historic Everglades over large portions of the remaining area. The basic approach of the restoration plan is to capture the 1.7 billion gallons of water per day that on average goes to the ocean because of over-drainage by the Central and Southern Florida Project. The stored water will be used to the benefit of the natural system and other water-related needs of the regions. The restoration plan is remarkably sound. It balances environmental restoration, water supply and flood control.

In 2000, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act, authorizing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The State of Florida and our federal partners—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior—are deeply committed to Everglades restoration. The primary state agencies charged with carrying out the restoration are the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. Since 2000, Florida has invested more than $2 billion to restore water quality and flow in America’s Everglades.

Restoration Becomes Reality

Sunset at the EvergladesToday, extensive research and an ambitious restoration plan are returning the famed River of Grass to its natural splendor. The State of Florida has acquired more than half, or more than 200,000 acres, of the lands needed to implement CERP. Florida’s $1.8 billion Acceler8 initiative is stepping up the pace of funding, design and construction of eight Everglades restoration projects over seven years. The initiative will restore 70,000 acres of wetlands, expand water treatment areas by 25,000 acres and provide an additional 425,000 acre-feet of water storage. Currently, Florida has invested more than $795 million to acquire over 198,603 acres to complete these critical projects.

In 2004, Florida broke ground on its first major construction project, the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, years ahead of schedule. Since February 2006, the State has expanded three Everglades Agricultural Area treatment wetlands, which will greatly increase the amount of water that can be treated before it enters the Everglades. In addition, construction has begun on several major projects, including the C-43 Caloosahatchee West Storage Reservoir, the C-44 St. Lucie Canal Reservoir/Stormwater Treatment Area, the Acme B Discharge project and the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. In June 2007, Governor Crist signed the Northern Everglades and Estatuaries Program, which will expand protection of the Northern Everglades, including Lake Okeechobee and two estatuaries. The new legislation dedicates an additional $100 million annually to protect these areas, as well as extends the Save our Everglades Trust Fund through 2020. In October 2007, the state celebrated the completion of 6,000 additional acres of stormwater treatment areas (STAs). With this addition, there are currently 52,000 acres of these constructed wetlands, which use green technologies to remove excess nutrients in the water flowing to the Everglades.

These are just some of the milestones we have achieved in Everglades Restorations, and there are many more to come. We should celebrate our progress in restoring this natural treasure, and remember that the restoration plan is a long-term process, which will improve the quality of life for the seven million residents of South Florida, provide improved flood control for the region, supply the essential amount of water for restoration, all while preserving America's Everglades.

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