Florida Bay advocates optimistic about agency restoration potential
Islamorada, FL – Today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District hosted a public forum to consider two options for Florida Bay restoration, only one of which begins to address the need for more freshwater in Everglades National Park. Widespread seagrass die-offs and plummeting fish populations continue to plague the park, which is starved for freshwater flow. At the meeting, participants discussed the implementation of restoration projects directly impacting the lives and livelihoods of Florida Keys communities.
The projects discussed are among the first Everglades restoration efforts proposed to improve the flow and distribution of water south into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Authorized decades ago and constructed with over $1 billion of taxpayer funds, these projects are essential to solving the ongoing water crisis plaguing the Everglades and its northern estuaries.
Earlier this year, Florida Bay advocates criticized plans to operate the projects as doing too little to restore the ecosystem. With stakeholder input, the agencies revised plans and introduced two new alternatives for how to operate the projects. Newly-released Alternative O prioritizes restoration and could result in beneficial new freshwater flows particularly during the dry season months. The timing of restored flow is critical to sustain habitat and wildlife that are vital to the tourism and fishing economies of the Florida Keys.
“The science is clear: Florida Bay needs more clean water,” said Cara Capp, Everglades Restoration Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “American taxpayers have spent over $1 billion on building restoration infrastructure to send freshwater flow to the Everglades and now the infrastructure is ready to do just that. Now is the time to send clean water south for America’s Everglades. We are grateful to the agencies for this progress, and for hosting a forum for public discussion in Monroe County where the community will be most directly benefit by this project’s outcome.”
Expert scientists reviewed the new alternative, which was released by the agencies days before the meeting. “There are many notable improvements in flows to Florida Bay from the last round of modeling,” said Dr. Thomas Van Lent, scientist at the Everglades Foundation. “We’ll be looking on ways to improve these alternatives and in getting clarity on water deliveries to Everglades National Park.”
“It’s encouraging to see the agencies take a harder look at maximizing ecological benefits for Florida Bay and Everglades National Park,” said Celeste DePalma, Everglades Policy Director at Audubon Florida. “It’s what environmental stakeholders asked for at the last meeting, and it goes back to the simple principle of putting restoration infrastructure to work to honor the taxpayers’ investment. The focus has always been Florida Bay’s health; we are moving in the right direction.”
“It’s critical to take the modelling process seriously; balancing all interests equitably,” said Elizabeth Jolin, executive director of Florida Bay Forever. “Florida Bay is on the brink of collapse, but a planning process backed by sound science and sincere motivations could be the resuscitation we are all hoping for.”
About National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations.
About Audubon Florida: For more than a century, Audubon Florida has encouraged people to take care of the places that make Florida special. Using science to guide our work and birdlife to measure ecosystem health, Audubon works to protect land, water, and wildlife. Today, Audubon is Florida’s most influential conservation organization and leads efforts to preserve America’s Everglades, coastal bird habitats, and other special places. Audubon also promotes stewardship and appreciation of public land and water so people may always experience and cherish Florida’s natural beauty.
About the Everglades Foundation: The Everglades Foundation is dedicated to leading efforts to restore and protect the greater Everglades ecosystem. Since its founding in 1993 by a group of local outdoor enthusiasts, the Foundation has become a respected and important advocate for the sustainability of one of the world’s most unique ecosystems.
About Florida Bay Forever: Florida Bay Forever is a grassroots movement dedicated to educating Monroe County citizens about Florida Bay and Everglades National Park, and to call for immediate action on Everglades restoration and water quality policies as they will most significantly affect change.
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