Historic investment in the Everglades will help boost habitat for sportfish and waterfowl
The United States Army Corps of Engineers has announced that they will allocate almost $1.1 billion in funding for Everglades restoration work. This is the largest single investment in the Everglades throughout its history and will help preserve and restore essential habitat for sportfish and waterfowl in South Florida, with impacts that will be felt throughout the southeastern United States.
This funding will allow work on major projects to improve the quality, timing, and distribution of freshwater flows to the Everglades. The marsh system historically depended on consistent freshwater flows to maintain wetland vegetation and produce a ridge-and-slough topography, where bands of ephemeral wetlands cut across open water. But this important natural infrastructure and unique habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife was damaged over years of development.
In the 19th century, the ridge and slough pattern ran from just south of Lake Okeechobee all the way to the coast. Throughout the 20th century, however, water quality and flow in south Florida declined due to flood control projects that cut the northern Everglades off from the central and southern Everglades, canals and levees that divided the central everglades, and harmful runoff from agricultural and residential areas. Levees built throughout the Everglades ecosystem in the mid-20th century degraded over 5,000 square miles of marsh and watershed. This has led to seagrass die-offs and toxic algal blooms that have harmed sportfish, marine mammals, and waterfowl.
To revive freshwater flows and their related benefits, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which directs the Army Corps—in partnership with state government—to “restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection.”
The CERP has made significant progress since its implementation. Multiple projects have been completed, including the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, which returned the river to its natural meandering state, restoring 44 miles of river flow and 40 square miles of floodplains.
The nearly $1.1 billion allocated by the Army Corps will go toward completing other projects like this in the Everglades. This funding was provided by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and shows just some of the impact that this important legislation will have on conservation throughout America.
Investments in Everglades restoration have a large impact on the economy: Every dollar invested generates four dollars in economic growth, and a fully funded CERP will create more than 440,000 jobs over the next 50 years.
Important restoration work remains in South Florida, including the construction of a reservoir that would store and purify water south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful lake discharges into the Everglades. The TRCP is advocating for this project and others like it during the annual congressional appropriations process.
You can help, too. Take action and urge your lawmakers to support full funding for Everglades restoration projects. There is momentum building with the Army Corps’ investment, but we can’t stop there.
Top photo courtesy of B. Call / Everglades National Park via Flickr.