Report: Buy land quickly to restore Everglades

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 11:50 p.m.
MIAMI - State and federal officials should buy more land, and do so quickly, in order to restore the Everglades before the property becomes developed or too expensive, according to a report released Monday.
The report on water storage is the seventh and final in a series by the National Academies of Sciences that gives advice to federal and state agencies and other entities engaged in restoring the greater Everglades.
The 30-year, $8.4 billion federal-state restoration program is intended to restore some of the natural water flow through the sensitive ecosystem that once stretched uninterrupted from a chain of lakes near Orlando to Florida Bay.
The report also suggested speeding up projects that restore the natural flow of the water and considering the use of Lake Okeechobee for additional water storage.
"The scientist are saying exactly what the environmental community has been saying for years," said John Adornato, Everglades Restoration Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The bottom line is, we need more surface water storage."
The government is already spending $100 million to $200 million each year to buy land for Everglades restoration, according to the report.
But "it seems certain that some land not soon acquired will be developed or become significantly more expensive before the two-decade-long acquisition program can be completed," the report said. "Protecting the potential for restoration, i.e. protecting the land, is essential for successful restoration."
Officials at the South Florida Water Management District said they were still reviewing the 140-page report, but pointed out the state has already accelerated several projects.
"We're kind of leading with our hearts and our checkbooks," said Chip Merriam, deputy executive director of the water management district.
The report also said many restoration projects involve a lot of engineering and will require substantial maintenance - such as one plan to pump water underground for storage, which would provide about three-quarters of the planned water storage.
Instead, the report suggests restoring more natural systems first, for example providing more natural water flow to Everglades National Park.
"I think the report accurately captures some of the questions we have regarding underwater storage," said Dennis Duke, program manager for South Florida restoration for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Duke said the Corps would consider the recommendations as it moved forward with the plan.
The report also suggested looking at Lake Okeechobee to potentially store more water - which many environmentalists oppose because it would flood out the lake's marshy wetlands.
But Duke said increasing the water level of the lake wasn't a probable option at this time.
David Bogardus, a field officer for the World Wildlife Fund, said he interpreted the suggestion to raise water levels at Lake Okeechobee as a last resort. Otherwise, he said, the report's findings were positive.
"It's really groundbreaking for us because it really validates a lot of issues that we've been talking about for a long time," Bogardus said.

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