Every few years we get a snapshot of the health of the Everglades in the System Status Report, which was released earlier this month. It shows improvement in the restoration of animal habitat, but there’s still a lot of work to do in getting more water to flow south.
Read a conversation with Julie Hill-Gabriel, the director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, about the update.
It was 14 years ago when state and federal politicians vowed to restore the Everglades. It was 2000 when the Everglades Restoration Plan was born. Briefly remind us what that plan was supposed to do.
So what happened is, around the turn of the last century in order to accommodate agricultural production and commercial and real estate development for people to live here, we drained and blocked that natural water flow within the Everglades. Almost as soon as that was finished, we started to see the negative implications of that.
So Everglades Restoration was brought together as an initiative to, as much as possible, bring back the historic flow of water, and it’s the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world.
And have we kept that promise? Is this plan actually doing that?
Well things are probably developing slower than we had hoped. We have really seen some significant progress particularly over the last five years. We do have projects that are underway.
We have a few that are completed, actually, including one in south Miami-Dade where we’re filling in the C-111 canal, what it’s called, these exciting names. But, essentially filling in a canal that was initially dredged and dug to transport rocket ships to a Port Canaveral-type facility in the Everglades that never came to be.
But already, when we start doing these things and trying to return the conditions to more historic flow patterns, we start to see the ecosystem respond. We’re seeing fish respond, and then in turn we are starting to see things like birds and habitat changes.
The issue of climate change and sea level rise is an important topic for folks in South Florida, especially those living along the coasts, but we don’t talk much about climate change and its impact to the Everglades. How is it impacting the Everglades?
Well I think that there are two sides to that coin. No. 1 is that we know that the Everglades, just as all of us in South Florida, have an additional threat from sea level rise and salt water intrusion.
But in the other hand one of the biggest solutions that we have is restoring the Everglades. When you recreate that north to south flow it’s probably the primary tool we have to push off the rising seas and push off the saltwater from coming in.
There was really interesting maps developed by the agencies that show South Florida with or without Everglades restoration. And the without is a very scary sight for anyone who lives here. And with restoration we’re enabling the ecosystem to adapt but also recharging our own water supply and keeping some of that seawater at bay.
Looking at the report, what does it say about where we are in Everglades restoration?
I think we've made significant progress, but we need to make more and we need to do it faster than we have been.
When you say faster, though, what does that mean?
Well, one of the primary challenges we’ve had is that this is a joint funding program between the state and the federal government. Each are responsible for 50 percent. And while the state has been able to invest significant amounts of funding, it’s been that much more difficult to get that from the federal government. So the failure of pieces of legislation that allow new projects to start has really been the number one cause of delay.