Engineering the Everglades

Image: Rene Ferrer/Pexels

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the US, has been decimated by human activity. Before its iconic marshes and wetlands were drained and ditched to make way for agriculture and development, water flowed naturally from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and into the Everglades marshy prairie.

Now, the ecosystem has been so altered that engineers and environmentalists acknowledge it can’t go back: it’ll have to be engineered. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) has been in the works for 20 years and consists of 68 projects. Its main goals: to restore water quality, protect species and their habitat, and manage a boundary between the built and natural world. 

Why This Matters: Restoring the Everglades matters for Floridians and the native Florida species who live in the Sea of Grass. The Everglades is where a third of Floridians get their drinking water and where much of the state’s water for agriculture comes from. It’s home to endangered Florida panthers, hundreds of bird species, and 37 native orchids. The comprehensive restoration plan is “life support for a critically ill ecosystem,” E&E wrote. Although the price tag has risen to $23 billion, the cost of inaction is higher. By implementing its many elements, there’s a possibility for the Everglades to both course correct years of damage and remain resilient as the climate crisis looms. 

Invasive species further destabilize an ecosystem: As if re-engineering a water system as sea levels rise wasn’t enough, the Everglades also faces a spate of invasive species harming its native wildlife. The Burmese python, first spotted in the area in 1979 and likely someone’s released pet, has taken over, devouring foxes, raccoons, and even deer. Florida now has an annual Python Bowl, a competition for rounding up pythons, although the event is more of an awareness-raising campaign and usually only brings in about as many snakes as eggs a mother python lays in a single sitting. The state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has an ongoing python elimination program, and the Southwest Water Management Division caught a record 2,000 snakes in the first eight months of 2020. 

A not-so-sweet history: One of the reasons for the Everglades’ current depleted state is the sugar industry. The early sugarcane farmers polluted Lake Okeechobee, and today phosphorus runoff from sugar operations leads to algal blooms. The industry has also spent years and millions of dollars to make sure they’re not on the hook to pay for cleaning up the mess they’ve made. A 2012 study by the Everglades Foundation found that 76% of phosphorus coming into the Everglades originated on agricultural land south of the lake — but the industry only paid about a quarter of their portion of cleanup costs. 

 

Up Next

Governor Proposes $536 Million To Fight 2021 California Wildfire Season

Governor Proposes $536 Million To Fight 2021 California Wildfire Season

As California’s wildfire season approaches, Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing $536 million in emergency and other funding to combat and prevent fires this year. The plan invests in additional firefighters, fuel breaks around vulnerable communities, and wildfire response capacity.  

Why This Matters: California’s 2020 fire season burned a record-breaking 4.2 million acres and experts say that severe drought may make this season even more destructive.

Continue Reading 538 words
Haaland Met with State and Tribal Leaders to Talk Future of Bears Ears National Monument

Haaland Met with State and Tribal Leaders to Talk Future of Bears Ears National Monument

Days after announcing a $1.6 billion investment into national parks, reserves, and Indigenous schools, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Bears Ears National Monument to speak to Utah state and Tribal leaders about the future of the monument.

Why This Matters: In 2017, the Trump administration reduced the Monument by nearly one million acres and opened the land up to cattle grazing and off-road vehicles.

Continue Reading 638 words
Interior Invests $1.6 Billion in Parks, Preserves, and Indigenous Schools

Interior Invests $1.6 Billion in Parks, Preserves, and Indigenous Schools

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer The Department of the Interior announced Friday that it will use funds allocated by a conservation bill passed last year to fund 165 national park improvement projects that will create nearly 19,000 jobs.  The Biden administration has pledged to protect 30% of public lands and waters by 2030, but accomplishing that means completing deferred maintenance […]

Continue Reading 532 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.