The Florida Everglades was once a unique wetland ecosystem spanning almost 29 thousand square kilometers of southern Florida. Water flowed from Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee, south through local estuaries, the Ten Thousand Islands and into surrounding bays (National Park Service, 2015). Today, the Everglades has been reduced to fifty percent of its historic size (Perry, 2008). A complicated system of canals, levees, pump stations, control structures, and conservation areas impedes the free flow of water which created the floodplain and supported the complex ecosystem of the Everglades (Perry, 2008).
Numerous restoration efforts implemented from the 1970s to today failed, resulting in the conditions of the Everglades ecosystem’s continual degradation (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). A comprehensive plan to fix problems with water quality, storage, timing, and distribution to restore the Florida Everglades is urgently needed. However, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is exceptionally bounded by existing infrastructure, private interests, and conflict within environmental leaders. It is essential to examine past restoration efforts leading up to the development of the CERP to fully understand why the CERP is structured as it is and why it is not comprehensive enough for successful implementation.
In 1948 the federal government created a water management project called the Central and South Florida Project (C&SF Project) which ultimately constructed over 1,600 kilometers of canals, 1,200 kilometers of levees, pump stations, 200 control structures including water storage in Lake Okeechobee and water conservation areas (Perry, 2008).
By the 1970s, agricultural and urban development caused drastic alteration to the natural hydro pattern to control flooding and satisfy water supply requirements (Perry, 2008).
The altered hydro pattern caused severe degradation of the Everglades (Perry, 2008). Within the years after C&SF Project before the development of the CERP in 2000, several laws and regulations passed in a genuine effort to balance the human and natural systems of water, protect and restore significantly impacted areas of the Everglades (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). However, the condition of the Everglades continued to deteriorate (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). Then, in 1996, the Federal Water Resources Development act required the United States Army Core of Engineers (USACE) to reevaluate C&SF Project’s methods and results in an attempt to restore the Everglades (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). The examination of the C&SF Project showed that the intentions and original goals of the C&SF Project were well-intended but focused on human needs more than restoring the Everglades (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). Additionally, the goals of the C&SF Project became notably conflicting, failing to aid restoration of the Everglades (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003).
The leadership of the CERP is determined to prevent such an outcome again (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). However, the potential of the CERP is currently limited by existing infrastructure and outside interests (Clarke & Dalrymple, 2003). Due to the current infrastructure in South Florida, native plant and animal communities struggle with abnormal conditions (Harvey, Loftus, Rehage, & Mazzotti, 2010). Freshwater delivered by canals instead of flood paths causes sudden floods of the habitat, disperses fish concentrations, and drastically alters salinities in the estuaries causing increased estuarine species death (Harvey, Loftus, Rehage, & Mazzotti, 2010). The high concentration of nutrients entering the hydrologic system from farm, dairy, and cattle lands has caused eutrophication of the Everglades (Perry, 2008). To fix these problems, the CERP will not only have to plan new hydrologic systems but also adjust the existing structures. The CERP will also have to work in conjunction with private property owners to reduce runoff contamination. The CERP has recently acquired a substantial amount of private property to use for restoration efforts, totaling approximately 51% of the land needed for restoration efforts according to the CERP (Perry, 2008). As critical this land acquisition is, the CERP still require 199,000 acres crucial to restoration success (Perry, 2008). One of the largest challenges in obtaining the remaining amount of land needed will be the northern land of the Everglades owned by Big Sugar (McCormick, 2015). The term “Big Sugar” refers to the sugar cane industry which controls a large amount of land in the northern Everglades.
This drained land blocks water from flowing north to south through the Everglades, instead diverting it to the east and west and finally releasing contaminated water into local estuaries (McCormick, 2015). Big Sugar is known for contributing millions of dollars to political representatives locally and nationally (McCormick, 2015). Despite overwhelming support to buy land from the sugar industry as well as advocate more funds for Everglades restoration, few politicians in Florida will stand against the sugar industry (McCormick, 2015). In 2014, Amendment 1 was passed with a 75 percent voter approval to use a formidable amount of tax revenues to purchase new land to aid restoration of the Everglades (News Service of Florida, 2018). Funds from Amendment 1 were arranged by the state to purchase land from the sugar industry (McCormick, 2015). In 2015, the South Florida Water Management District rejected the offer to buy the land (McCormick, 2015). This was a monumental loss for environmentalist and the voters of Florida. In June, it was ruled that legislators have purposed misused funds to purchase new lands, fund restoration, and establish new parks (News Service of Florida, 2018). This ruling is a monumental victory for citizens and environmentalists in Florida. However, the fight is not over. The decision is to be appealed by the House and Senate (News Service of Florida, 2018).