Position Statement on Restoration of the Florida Everglades
The Florida Everglades are not only an environmental wonder, but provide essential “plumbing” to move water south in the state, recharging the Biscayne Aquifer and ultimately supplying necessary freshwater to Florida Bay. However, the flow and structure of the Everglades has been substantially altered for over 100 years. The restoration of this historic flow is essential to maintain ecological balance in South Florida estuaries and Florida Bay, which are vital to the health of our fisheries, habitat and water quality. The sportfishing industry relies on clean waters and sustainable fisheries for its continued success. The American Sportfishing Association supports efforts to restore the Everglades’ historic southerly flow of water, with an emphasis on those projects that will have the greatest and most immediate impact on the system.
Florida is the “Fishing Capital of the World.” Sportfishing contributes $8.7 billion per year to the state’s economy and supports over 80,000 jobs, making the state an important focus of the industry. Continued industry success in Florida depends on clean waters, sustainable fisheries, and access to both. Record rainfall amounts in January 2016 in south Florida resulted in heavy releases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers to relieve high water levels that could have caused the failure of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee. The substantial freshwater inflows into the Indian River Lagoon and Charlotte Harbor area are causing extensive habitat and fisheries damage. In addition, large salinity fluctuations due to inconsistent water deliveries to the south are resulting in large-scale seagrass die-off in Florida Bay threatening these vital nursery resources. These emergency situations have highlighted the need to expedite Everglades’ restoration projects that will restore the natural southward flow of freshwater to Florida Bay and reduce the need for substantial discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west.
Drainage of South Florida “swampland” began in the late 1800s, but significant projects to divert water and dry the land were not begun in earnest until the devastating hurricanes of the late 1920s that caused massive flooding and loss of lives, resulting in the construction of the 170 mile Herbert Hoover Dike (Dike) along Lake Okeechobee (Lake) in the 1930s. In 1948, Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project for “flood control, water level control, water conservation, prevention of salt water intrusion, and preservation of fish and wildlife.” This project resulted in extensive water control structures (canals, water storage, levees, pumps, etc.) to manage and regulate water in central and south Florida. Significant environmental impacts in the 1980s culminated in a re-evaluation of the C&SF by the USACOE, resulting in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. The goal of CERP is to restore the historic southerly water flow patterns to the Everglades by addressing the quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of water through the South Florida system. CERP established a 50-50 cost share of $9.5 billion between the state and federal government for more than 60 projects over a 30 year period.
The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) evolved to expedite a series of highly beneficial CERP elements for completion. Currently, those projects have been identified and are awaiting Congressional authorization and appropriation. Additional beneficial restoration strategies have also been identified to improve upon the original CERP plan, including:
• Water storage north and south of the Lake – watershed storage on the north side of the Lake will allow for more flexibility in maintaining safe water levels in the Lake, significantly reducing the need for releases to the east and west. In addition, this storage will also provide an ecological benefit by treating and filtering water before it enters the Lake. Storage south of the Lake in the Everglades Agricultural Area will benefit water flow through Everglades National Park to Florida Bay.
• Dike repairs – while Dike repairs are not necessary to restore southerly water flow, they will allow for improved control of Lake water levels and reduce the need for emergency, high-volume east-west releases.
• Delivery of water to Florida and Biscayne bays – projects that will diffuse and spread water over larger areas on the eastern side of the Everglades, mimicking historic water flow patterns, will improve freshwater flows to Florida Bay.
To achieve maximum benefit and provide urgent relief to the Everglades system and stop harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, ASA strongly supports Everglades’ restoration and the southerly flow of water from central Florida through to Florida Bay. ASA advocates the immediate authorization and funding of CEPP projects, synchronized and expedited timeframes on storage elements north and south of the Lake and Florida and Biscayne Bay projects. ASA supports accelerating the entire restoration and recovery of the Everglades. ASA supports acquisition of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area and Federal (such as H.R. 4793) and State of Florida legislation to provide resources. In addition, the industry supports temporary water solutions such as emergency diversion of water flows to the south and temporary storage solutions that would decrease the need for releases from Lake to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
Approved by the ASA Government Affairs Committee, May 2016