Restoring the Florida Everglades Final

This discussion topic submitted by Nathan Moyer ( at 2:53 pm on 5/28/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

The Florida Everglades are one of the most unique ecosystems in the United States of America, and also one of the most endangered. Human development has caused havoc on the Everglades ecosystem which intern has affected a great many ecosystems throughout South Florida. Therefore, both Florida and the United States government have taken action in developing a Comprehensive Plan to restore the Everglades back to a healthy ecosystem.
The Florida Everglades, commonly referred to as an American national treasure, is most frequently described as a free flowing river of grass stretching from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. This unique area is a vital refuge and home for storks, alligators, panthers, and other wildlife (9). But the greater Everglades ecosystem, called the south Florida ecosystem, encompasses much more than the river of grass that is known as the Everglades. Perhaps this is best described by Mrs. Douglas's 1947 book "River of Grass", as she describes the rich complexity of landscapes and seascapes, saw grass sloughs, cypress swamps, coastal lagoons, and bays. This ecosystem stretches south from Orlando through the Chain of Lakes, the Kissimmee Valley, Lake Okeechobee, the remaining Everglades, and on the waters of the Florida Bay and the coral reefs (9). The importance of the Everglades and their relationship with the south Florida ecosystem are becoming increasingly apparent with time as more and more of the Everglades are being destroyed by human activities.
An ecosystem that was created on a geologic timescale has been rapidly destroyed by human activities over the past hundred and twenty years. Currently, fifty percent of the historic Everglades wilderness encompassing much of South Florida is gone (4). Today's Everglades are a network of levees, dikes, and canals that are regulated by local, state, and federal agencies (4). These Levees, dikes, and canals greatly alter the historic flow of the everglades. The land was manipulated in sections to serve conflicting purposes such as agriculture, wilderness, and development.
It all started in 1882 when a Philadelphia man purchased 4-million acres with the dream of draining the land and developing a sizable sugar industry. The idea of draining the area that was viewed as "a mosquito infested wetland area" and "uninhabitable by man" quickly spread (4). By the 1930's more than 400 miles of drainage canals were put in place. Much of this early draining of the Everglades was done to provide land for agriculture (4). Florida began to see the everglades as a large agricultural revenue possibility if the land could be drained. Therefore, Florida passed its first policy to alter the Everglades, the Sugar Act of 1934, which called for additional wetlands in southern Florida to be drained and put into sugarcane production (7).
Draining wetlands was not confined to the Everglades. The Kissimmee River, which was a slow flowing meandering river that feeds Lake Okeechobee, which intern feeds the Everglades, was channelized into a 52-mile-long, 400-foot-wide, 35-feet deep canal (4).
By the 1940's development other than agricultural began to take interest in the Florida Everglades land. Developmental pressures and two large flood events in the 1920's and 1940's led Florida to authorize the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948, which would provide flood protection and fresh water to south Florida (9). The project currently includes 1,000 miles of canals, 720 miles of levees, and almost 200 water control structures (9). The southern Florida human population, which rose from 500,000 in the 1950's to over 6 million today, now depends on the services provided by the project (9).
The canals, levees, and water control structures created a complex section of the Everglades that is primarily used for agriculture known as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). This area consists of over 280,000 ha southeast of Lake Okeechobee and creates a major detour for the water flow from its historic route (8). The EAA is very important to Florida's economy by accounting for 40,000 jobs and generating from $1.2- $1.5 billion annually (1,4).
Agricultural production in the Everglades can have its tole on the environment. The use of fertilizers has caused severe eutrofication (excessive nutrients in the water) to the waters (8). This negatively effects the Everglades along with surrounding ecosystems. One of the Everglades functions historically has been to purify water of sediment and nutrients (9). The Everglades, which receives 60 cm of rainfall annually, now has fresh water shortages (10). The soil that is being farmed is a fluffy black brown peat that was formed over a long time period from the Everglades ecosystem process. Farming on this soil, along with drying out due to changes in the hydrology, has caused a dramatic loss of peat depth, sometimes over 5 feet. There are even cases where plumbing systems that were once underground are now hanging suspended in the air (4)! Although agriculture was the initial drive behind draining the Everglades, it is not the sole reason for its problems. Water quality problems caused by agriculture are dwarfed compared to ones caused by residential development (9). Any activity that changes the hydrology or flow of water or reduces the wildlife habitat in the Everglades will produce negative impacts.
The wildlife populations in the Everglades are drastically declining. Fisheries were disrupted and 90-95 percent of the wading bird population disappeared (4). The habitat loss has caused many flora and fauna to become threatened or endangered, especially the larger species such as the Florida panther. The Everglades today are home to 68 species that are identified as threatened or endangered to becoming extinct (9). The loss of wildlife and wildlife habitat will have an immense negative effect on Florida's economy, which is largely based on tourism (10). As humans urbanized drained areas of the Everglades they brought with them exotic and invasive species that are also having a negative impact on the wildlife (7).
As stated earlier, the functions of the Everglade ecosystem, such as flood control, water filtering, and providing wildlife habitat, are no longer occurring as they once did. Because the Everglades ecosystem is entwined in the southern Florida ecosystem, negative impacts are felt in a much larger area. One billion seven hundred million gallons of water per day is being lost through discharge to the ocean (9). Coral reefs are now being fed with large amounts of nutrient rich water, which cause them to be choked out by algae. This causes the declining populations of commercially and recreationally important fish species in estuaries and bays in southern Florida. The St. Lucie estuary in particular has had problems with defoliation of sea grasses, fish kills, and deformed fish (9).
The endangered state of the Florida Everglades ecosystem, increasing pressure from tourism, and urban and agricultural expansion in the Everglades has led Florida to create policies address their practices. The first such policy passed by the Florida Legislature was the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Protection Act of 1991. This act required the District to complete a Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan and other regulatory requirements to improve water quality entering the Everglades (8). This ended up causing more legal battles than Everglades protection because the plan did not consider reality, science, and economics in its development. Therefore in the Florida Legislature passed the Everglades Forever Act of 1994 to put an end to the costly litigation and to begin the clean up of the Everglades ecosystem (8). This acts entailed creating six storm water treatment areas, water supply and hydroperiod improvement and restoration, research and monitoring programs, and implement Best Management Practices (BMP's) in the EAA (8).
BMP's are "on-farm activities designed to reduce nutrient losses in drainage waters to an environmentally acceptable level, while simultaneously maintaining an economically viable farming operation for the grower" (2). The BMP's were created to reduce nutrient concentrations entering the Everglades, in particular phosphorus. One method used as a BMP was to create discharge standards, reduce P concentrations, and reduce discharge volume (2). A list of the BMP's used included reduced drainage pumping, uniform drainage, pumping only the highest quality water off farm, retaining and reusing P laden water on farm, improved fertility practices, use of cover crop, and sediment control (8). Some farmers insist that through the use of BMP's they reduced the concentrations of P coming off their fields by half, but there is scientific uncertainty there (4). Regardless as to whether those numbers are correct, Florida still desired something more than the Everglades Forever Act to protect the Everglades and water shortage problems (9).
The Water Resource Development Acts of 1992 and 1996 allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the Central and Southern Florida Project of 1948. They were asked to develop a Comprehensive Plan to restore and preserve south Florida's natural ecosystem, while enhancing water supplies and maintaining flood protection (9).
The development Comprehensive Plan was based on the best available science with independent scientific review as an integral part of its development and implementation (9). One example of a scientific approach that would be useful in planning and evaluating this restoration project is landscape modeling for Everglades ecosystem restoration (3). Hypothesis-driven experimental research is also considered necessary for natural resource management. This type of research could help identify management problems such as the cause of cattail expansion in the Everglades or the threshold phosphorus concentration or the everglades (6). Other research could provide a list of water storage techniques with their effect on the environment and their cost (1). One unique factor of the plan was its adaptiveness to future modifications that will be made with new information (9).
The Comprehensive Plan was developed through an open process that engaged all stakeholders and interest groups as full partners. This plan was accomplished by a team of 100 ecologists, hydrologists, engineers, and other professionals from more than 30 federal, state, and local agencies (9). The challenge was to achieve ecosystem restoration goals for water storage while minimizing costs to agriculture and other sectors of the regional economy (1).
The Comprehensive Plan identified the hydrology as the most important aspect to the Everglades restoration. The hydrology can be described by four interrelated factors that deal with health of the ecosystem and Everglades restoration, which are: 1) quantity, 2) quality, 3) distribution, and 4) timing. The principle goal of the plan is to deliver the right amount of water, of the right quality, to the right places, and at the right time (9). The natural environment would then respond to the correct hydrologic conditions and return to a healthy Everglades ecosystem.
The cost of implementing the Comprehensive Plan is estimated at nearly $8 billion over the next twenty years. Florida was committed to paying half of that but would not be able pay it all. Therefore they went to congress with the complete plan to ask for the federal government to cover the rest of the cost (10). Governor Jeb Bush of Florida was pushing for the approval of senate bill 2796, the Water Resource Development Act, which would allocate moneys for the Comprehensive Plan. This landmark bill signing was highly anticipated by many people who feared that if this did not pass, know one would have the political courage to try something like this again (10). Thankfully, president Clinton signed the bill into law on December 11, 2000 (5).
Through the Water Resource Development Act of 2000, congress authorized an initial $1.4 billion package that will begin implementation of the plan. This authorization included four pilot projects, ten specific project features, and the authority through which smaller projects can be implemented. There are a total of twenty-seven components to the plan, which are to be completed in twenty years at a cost of $8 billion (9), although some critics project the costs rising up to $11 billion (10).
Some of the goals of the Comprehensive Plan are to: 1) improve the health of over 2.4 million acres of the south Florida ecosystem, including Everglades National Park, 2) improve the Health of Lake Okeechobee, 3) virtually eliminate damaging fresh water releases to the estuaries, 4) improve water deliveries to Florida and Biscayne bays, 5) improve water quality, and 6) enhance water supply and maintain flood protection (9). To determine the success of the Comprehensive Plan's goals there are several indicators of a restored ecosystem that will be monitored. Things they will look at are wetland functions that mimic pre-drained conditions, significant increases in animal populations, return of large nesting birds to Everglades National Park, the recovery of a number of endangered species, improved health of Lake Okeechobee fishery, increased freshwater flows to bays and estuaries, improved health of sea grasses and other submerged vegetation, and greatly reduced frequency of water restrictions (9).
Few would argue that the Comprehensive Plan would not improve the Everglades ecosystem. The plan makes great strides to correct many of the problems that human activity has caused the Everglades ecosystem. Fixing the water problem with the everglades is the first and most important aspect of saving the ecosystem. But some would argue that it does not go far enough to restore the Everglades. Representatives from the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club are urging the state to purchase more land to buffer the Everglades from rapidly encroaching development (11).
The Everglades ecosystem has been so badly beaten into an almost unrecognizable state. The overwhelming and costly Comprehensive Plan provides the foundation from which more restoration work can be conducted in the future. With developmental pressure, the Everglades are sure to face more environmental problems. With the Comprehensive Plan, smaller individual restoration projects can now be taken on one-on-one with a much better chance of seeing positive results.


1) Aillery, M. etal. Agriculture and Ecosystem Restoration in South Florida: Assessing Trade-Offs from Water-Retention Development in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 2001. 83: 183-195.

2) Bottcher, A. etal. Best management practices for the water quality improvement in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed. Ecological Engineering. 1995. 5:341-356.

3) DeAngelis, D. etal. Landscape Modeling for Everglades Ecosystem Restoration. Ecosystems. 1998. 1:64-75.

4) Everglades Forever Restoring Florida's Precious Ecosystem: Follow the Water. 2001.

5) Governor Jeb Bush and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struths Attend Historic Everglades Bill Signings.2001.

6) Havens, K., N. Aumen. Forum Hypothesis-Driven Experimental Research Is Necessary for Natural Resource Management. Environmental Management. 2000. 25:1-7

7) History of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States. 2001.

8) Izuno, F., L. Capone. Strategies for protecting Florida's Everglades: The Best Management Practice Approach. Wat. Sci. Tech. 1995. 31:123-131.

9) Rescuing an Endangered Ecosystem- the Place to Restore America's Everglades. 2001.

10) Restoring the Florida Everglades: An ENS Two Part Special Report: Part I. 2001.

11) Restoring the Florida Everglades: An ENS Two Part Special Report: Part II. 2001.

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