By Dr. Meenakshi Chabba, Ecosystem & Resilience Scientist, The Everglades Foundation
Excerpt from The Everglades Foundation Science Insider, Summer 2023, Volume 8
History has often demonstrated that the failings of humankind have been matched equally, if not more grandly, with powerful redemptive acts. The ambitious effort to restore the Everglades is a similar quest to repair past damages and bring the Everglades back to its former glory. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was launched by federal and state governments in 2000. The multi-billion-dollar plan with 68 individual projects showed limited progress in its first decade. However, diligent science and persistent advocacy have made fruitful inroads in recent years, and restoration goals suddenly seem within reach.
Everglades Restoration Has Three Primary Goals:
"Getting the water right"
Restoring ecological health
Advancing compatibility between the environment and our communities
Restoration will create freshwater storage capacity south of Lake Okeechobee and improve the quality of the water via Stormwater Treatment Areas. Clean water will be directed strategically southward to mimic the historic sheet flow and hydrate the ailing wildlife of the Everglades. This will also cut the high discharge of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s east and west coasts.
Signs of progress can already be seen in the record high water levels in Shark River and Taylor Sloughs in 2023. The recent groundbreaking for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir signals accelerated progress in the coming years. Getting the water right will enhance ecological well-being as continuous improvement in wading bird populations has already been documented. Everglades restoration will also ensure that hydrological and ecological goals are met without compromising urban and agricultural water supply and flood control across South Florida.
EAA Reservoir Groundbreaking
As CERP culminates, two prominent impacts of climate change will affect the Everglades: Sea level rise will be accompanied by concomitant changes in salinity, and higher air temperatures will also alter rainfall and flood patterns, and increase the chances of drought.
As always, it will be incumbent upon scientists and planners to rise to the challenges posed by climate change. Sustainability will depend on restoration benefits reaching not only diverse environments but diverse communities, including native and indigenous peoples. Coordinating different restoration and resilience plans in the region will produce an integrated vision that enhances sustainability. By producing appropriate research, adaptive management, and resilience strategies, we can plan for the impacts of climate change to ensure restoration benefits well into the future.