The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a virtual committee meeting Aug. 13 of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, 2021 (CERP)’s restoration goals to review its progress improving the south Florida ecosystem via natural restoration of the Everglades.
An ad hoc committee reviewed the materials which includes all the land and water managed by the federal government and state within the south Florida ecosystem, restoration accomplishments, evaluating engineering issues effecting restoration plans and evaluating CERP performance measures, assessment strategies and assessment reports.
Before opening the floor for suggestions, environmental professionals went over the history of hydrological and environmental change and current conditions in the Everglades, current planning initiatives and various restoration projects from Biscayne Bay Southeast Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (BBSEER), Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), and more.
James Erskine, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said CERP is on the cusp of completing projects and is looking at 12 more that will significantly impact the system in a positive way.
The Everglades Coalition announced it reached out to President Joe Biden to invest $2.9 billion over four years into everglades restoration. The Florida Congressional Delegation supported the request which would translate into $725 million annually to get the program back on track.
“More funding equals more progress,” Everglades Coalition representative Marisa Carrozzo said.
William “Chad” Kennedy, FDEP, added that state and federal government have made water quality a high priority recently and that although COVID-19 slowed things down a little, work continued.
“Congress gets the message and are on point,” he said. “The state really focused on getting the work done to protect our resources.”
A good portion of the seminar was focused on feedback from a panel of environmental groups regarding useful restoration activities or concerns for CISRERP to focus in its 2022 review, including two Native American tribal officials/representatives.
Kevin Cunniff, Environmental Resource Management Department (ERMD) director, pointed to a 20-year problem over the failed Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation Water Conservation Project that cost the Seminole Tribe and the Army Corps of Engineers tens of millions of dollars for the project, including four large basins to hold water and provide better quality of water treatment before sending it out of the reservation through the canal system.
“Big Cypress is considered the heart of the Seminole Tribe,” he said.
Gene Duncan Miccosukee Tribe Water Resources Director added that over-drainage of areas in other areas of the state need to be remedied as pollution continues to drain into their waters.
While the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers had promised phosphorus levels of 10 ppb, latest readings have shown levels to be 74 ppb after going through treatment, wherein in other areas of Florida they are 40-41 ppb, he said.
“In other words, we’re not protecting conservation areas,” he said.
One Florida Director Nyla Pipes said it seemed the more water is sent south, the dirtier the water is.
“We can’t send it all south,” she said. “Instead of just flooding we’ve got to start further north. We’ve got to look at storage.”