By MARK D. PERRY
February 16, 2007
Hundreds of people gathered recently near Orlando at Shingle Creek, "the Headwaters of Florida's Everglades" for the 22nd Annual Everglades Coalition Conference, "Kissimmee to the Keys: Standing Firm for Everglades Restoration." It is the largest annual forum for Everglades conservation and restoration.
State and federal political leaders, agency chiefs and environmental organizations presented and debated the critical issues of restoring the greater Everglades ecosystem. Poor water management, development and invasive species continue to threaten the wildlife habitat and the spatial extent of the Everglades while causing extensive damage to our coastal estuaries.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, with 68 component projects, was approved to move forward in year 2000. The plan, now at $10 billion, was also to be funded with a 50-50 match from state and federal dollars, but federal funding has not materialized.
Florida has moved ahead with several initiatives, and new Gov. Charlie Crist told the conference that he is committed to Everglades's restoration. His secretaries of Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Sole, and Department of Community Affairs, Tom Pelham, along with Chief of Staff Eric Eikenberg, all were active participants at the conference. We will soon see if he continues to establish new leadership in the water management districts.
During the conference, the Everglades Coalition of 48 environmental organizations identified essential elements that are crucial to the success of Everglades restoration. Among them are:
• Completing the restoration of the Kissimmee River to slow and store water north of Lake Okeechobee.
• Taking out the levee and canal barriers, including raising Tamiami Trail, to allow sheet flow of water into the southern Everglades.
Perhaps the most important element is to connect the flow of water from the lake to the Everglades through a dynamic storage flow-way through the Everglades Agricultural Area. The flow-way would allow water to leave Lake Okeechobee and move south as it naturally did before the drainage system was put in. The slow-moving sheet flow would clean the water before it entered the Everglades south of the EAA and prevent the major damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries.
The concept of a flow-way through the EAA has gained momentum and the Everglades Coalition also sees it as being the contingency plan for the 200 Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells which are currently a part of CERP. The wells would inject 1 billion gallons a day from the lake deep into the ground and then try to recover the water back into the Lake when the water is needed. The flow-way however would provide more spatial expanse of water that would sheet flow south and continue to supply the Everglades with water all the way down to Florida Bay, the way the historic natural flows did. We see this as a better restoration component and call upon the state and federal partners to reconsider it as part of the plan.
As one of his first initiatives in office, Crist committed to restoring the Everglades. The conference also inspired U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, along with U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Tim Mahoney, to submit separate bills for fast-tracking the Everglades restoration plan.
Perhaps there is hope that 2007 will be the year we can really get the state and federal partnership going along with the consideration of a flow-way through the EAA.
Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, is state co-chair of the Everglades Coalition.