The Economic Impact
Florida’s economy depends on healthy estuaries, and the health of the Everglades
For every dollar spent on Everglades restoration projects, the local economy will see a $4 return.
There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas
- Three nationally recognized estuaries are in long-term collapse due to the damming, ditching and draining of the River of Grass.
- In 2000, Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which is the roadmap to restoring the Everglades.
- Since 2000, CERP projects have stagnated due to lack of funding and political will. Florida’s estuaries have continued to suffer as a result.
- The original CERP plan relied heavily on Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) to store excess water. Science has proven ASR is not as feasible as once thought.
- As planned, CERP alone will not save the estuaries. Increased storage, treatment and conveyance of water south of Lake Okeechobee is essential to stop the damaging discharges and to restore the flow of clean, fresh water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
- The health of our estuaries, our fisheries, and our economy are at risk of complete collapse if meaningful and scientifically sound restoration actions aren’t immediately taken.
The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers
- The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers are artificially connected to Lake Okeechobee by way of manmade canals dug a century ago.
- During periods of heavy rainfall, billions of gallons of nutrient- and sediment-laden freshwater are discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. The Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee, prevents this water from flowing south into the Everglades – where it went historically, and where it’s desperately needed today.
- The devastating discharges kill seagrass, oysters and other marine life, causing lasting damage to estuarine ecosystems.
- Nutrients – primarily nitrogen and phosphorous – and other pollutants can linger in the estuaries for years. These chemicals fuel toxin-producing harmful algal blooms and have been linked to an increase in the intensity and duration of red tide outbreaks.
- Freshwater — even in its purest form — may be considered a pollutant if it pours into an estuary in unnatural quantities or at the wrong time of year.
The Everglades and Florida Bay
- Florida Bay receives only one-sixth of the freshwater flow it once did.
- In the summer of 2015, roughly 40,000 acres of seagrass died in Florida Bay due to lack of freshwater flow and unnaturally high salinities.
- Aquifers in South Florida are experiencing saltwater intrusion as a result of decreased sheet flow in the Everglades, threatening the drinking water supply for 8 million Floridians.
- Because of water quality regulations aimed at protecting the Everglades ecosystem, the polluted water from Lake Okeechobee must first be cleaned in manmade wetlands before being sent south. This will require additional storage and stormwater treatment areas (STAs) south of the lake, where aquatic vegetation will remove nitrogen and phosphorous from the water as it slowly flows towards the Everglades.
The solution to all these problems is stated simply in a petition signed by 207 respected Everglades scientists on March 12, 2015:
“As a scientist working in the Everglades, it is my scientific opinion that increased storage and treatment of fresh water south of Lake Okeechobee, and additional flow from the lake southward, is essential to restoring the Everglades, Florida Bay, and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”
Estimates of land required are approximately 15 percent of the EAA, neither eliminating farming nor harming Glades communities. This amount is less than half of the acreage that U.S. Sugar has offered to sell to the State of Florida, in an agreement that remains in effect until October 11, 2020.
Water storage, treatment and conveyance in the EAA is the best option to reduce the damaging releases to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and to improve the water flow south. Especially considering the recent devastation to the coastal estuaries and ongoing massive seagrass die-off in Everglades National Park, planning for EAA projects must be expedited and be given top priority over planning for other new Everglades restoration projects.
We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The costs and risks of further delay are staggering. Development plans in the EAA threaten to change the region, permanently severing the link between Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.
The problem is known. The solution is known. The funding is available through Amendment 1. All that’s missing is the political will to make it happen. We must acquire land south of Lake Okeechobee to store, treat and convey water south to the Everglades in order to save the fisheries and coastal communities of south Florida.