WASHINGTON (March 31, 2016) -- Significant progress has been made in restoring America's Everglades over the past five years and a comprehensive report highlighting these efforts has just been submitted to Congress.
The 2015 Report to Congress for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was jointly submitted to Congress last week by the secretaries of the Army and the Interior. The report details the collaborative effort of participating agencies and their combined commitment to restore America's Everglades.
"Progress is being made towards achieving the benefits for the natural system and the human environment envisioned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)," said Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. "The next five years hold the promise of even more tangible, beneficial change in the south Florida ecosystem and we look forward to continuing progress with the Department of the Interior, the State of Florida, and our other partners."
Over the past five years, collaborative restoration efforts between federal and state agencies has resulted in a period of unprecedented progress towards restoring America's Everglades. New construction starts, project completions, accelerated planning efforts, new investments in water quality and the passage of key congressional legislation are a few of the highlights of the 2010-2015 reporting period.
"This Report to Congress on the status of our efforts to restore the Everglades demonstrates Interior's continuing commitment to work with its State, Tribal, local government and NGO partners to take action to restore this unique and fragile landscape," said Michael J. Bean, Department of the Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and chair of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. "We are seeing significant progress and observing on-the-ground results for our environment. And we know that our investments are promoting economic benefits and coastal resiliency in the face of sea level rise and other challenges which will allow us to achieve, in our life-time our long-standing restoration goals."
GETTING PROJECTS BUILT
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serves as the lead federal agency for CERP, and is responsible for planning, designing, and constructing Everglades restoration projects in partnership with the local sponsor, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).
"Momentum remains strong in our continued efforts to restore America's Everglades," said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. "In close collaboration with our State of Florida and federal partners, our Army Corps Team is making great progress in the restoration of this National treasure. We're breaking ground on new components, completing components currently under construction, and planning for future increments of restoration."
Between 2010 and 2015, major construction milestones were achieved. Construction began on multiple restoration projects and additional project components, including the Indian River Lagoon-South C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area project and the Picayune Strand Restoration Project's Faka Union Pump Station.
CERP projects were also completed during this timeframe, including the State-expedited C-111 Spreader Canal Western project and the Melaleuca Eradication and Other Exotic Plants Research Annex, the first CERP project to be completed and transferred.
Additionally, restoration efforts previously reported as ongoing in the 2010 report, are now complete, such as the first CERP component to ever break ground, the Picayune Strand Restoration Project's Merritt Pump Station. This massive pump station is currently conveying water to help restore more than 55,000 acres of natural habitat.
CERP is composed of a series of projects designed to address four major characteristics of water flow: quantity, quality, timing and distribution. These projects work in concert with the Foundation Projects, which include the Kissimmee River Restoration, Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, and C-111 South Dade projects, to deliver essential restoration benefits to America's Everglades.
During this reporting period, a key component of the Modified Water Deliveries project was completed, the Tamiami Trail One-Mile Bridge, which enables additional water to flow into Everglades National Park.
To further expand upon this initiative, the National Park Service (NPS) received authorization to construct 5.5 additional miles of bridging, under a separate congressional action. This additional bridging will provide even more water flow into Everglades National Park and will distribute that flow across a wider area to hydrate important deeper water habitats in Everglades National Park.
REALIZING RESTORATION BENEFITS
Results from CERP's robust system-wide monitoring and assessment program indicate early evidence of restoration success. The multi-agency Restoration, Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) group tracks key attributes that serve as indicators of the overall health of the Everglades, and monitor and assess the ecological effects of ongoing restoration efforts.
An ecological report card, known as the System Status Report is prepared every two years. The latest report, released in 2014 indicates that implementation of restoration projects and adjustments in operations are having positive impacts on the ecosystem.
Examples of this include improved nesting periods of the Roseate Spoonbill, a threatened and endangered wading bird species, as a result of effective coordination with water management operational decisions, and the return of native plants and animals to the restored portions of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project.
"During the past five years, significant environmental results have been achieved through implementation of CERP and the pre-CERP foundation restoration projects, " said Joel Beauvais, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water, in a letter that was submitted as part of the 2015 CERP Report to Congress. "Over the next five years, numerous CERP projects are scheduled for construction and completion. These projects will result in improved water quality and ecological conditions in the wetland and aquatic ecosystems of south Florida."
PREPARING FOR FUTURE CONSTRUCTION EFFORTS
In the past five years, four CERP projects were authorized in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA): the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Phase 1 Project; Broward County Water Preserve Areas Project, and the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Project.
Congressional authorization of these projects provides needed momentum towards the restoration of America's Everglades and will enable work to move forward on these four projects. In addition, the final report for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) was completed and transmitted to Congress for authorization and appropriations.
In fact, the Central Everglades Planning Project was completed in its entirety during this reporting period. The study began in November 2011 and the signed Record of Decision was transmitted to Congress in August 2015. The Corps prepared the CEPP report using a pilot process designed to reduce the overall time allocated for a study of this magnitude. In prior years, plan formulation and review may have taken six years or longer --The CEPP process was completed in half that time.
In its 2014 report, the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP) suggested the 2011 Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) be revisited to advance projects with the greatest potential to avert ongoing ecosystem degradation and promise the largest restoration benefits.
The IDS provides an overall strategy and sequence for project planning, design, and construction based on ecosystem needs, benefits, costs, and available funding. This schedule helps restoration planners, stakeholders, and the public focus on priorities, opportunities, and challenges and provides a path forward, completing construction of projects underway and outlining the next projects to undergo planning, design, and construction.
During the 2015 CERP Report to Congress reporting period, efforts were under way to update the IDS, utilizing the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force's successful workshop model to engage the public and stakeholders. The IDS Update was completed at the end of 2015 and will serve as a roadmap for future restoration efforts.
Much progress has been made in restoration efforts to date, but much more remains to be done. Success in restoring America's Everglades is contingent upon a dedicated and collaborative effort by federal, state, tribal and local partners. The 2015 CERP Report to Congress serves as a clear demonstration of what can be accomplished through strong partnerships and collaboration, and it sets the tone for how progress will continue as we all move forward to restore America's Everglades.