Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Twelve years into the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, little progress has been made in restoring the core of the remaining Everglades ecosystem; instead, most project construction so far has occurred along its periphery. To reverse ongoing ecosystem declines, it will be necessary to expedite restoration projects that target the central Everglades, and to improve both the quality and quantity of the water in the ecosystem. The new Central Everglades Planning Project offers an innovative approach to this challenge, although additional analyses are needed at the interface of water quality and water quantity to maximize restoration benefits within existing legal constraints.

Key Messages

  • Stormwater treatment areas and the implementation of best management practices have helped reduce the loads of phosphorus flowing into the central Everglades, and the state and federal governments have recently agreed upon additional efforts to meet Everglades water quality standards. However, there has been minimal progress in restoring hydrology in the remnant Everglades—that is, restoring the volumes and velocities, depth, and duration of water flows.
  • Recent state budget cuts, combined with financial responsibilities associated with new water quality projects, threaten to slow hydrologic restoration progress further. As a result, the federal government is likely to bear increased responsibility for maintaining the pace of Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) progress in the near term. To date, the state has vastly out spent the federal government on Everglades restoration projects and associated land acquisition. Additional Congressional authorizations will be needed to officially credit the state for much of this spending.
  • In a new analysis, the report's authoring committee provided "grades" on the current condition of 10 ecosystem attributes, relative to pre-drainage conditions, and assessed current trends. For most attributes, grades ranged from C (degraded) to D (significantly degraded), but one ecosystem attribute received a grade of F (near irreversible damage). The grades are not intended to prioritize restoration of a single attribute to the detriment of others, but to highlight the urgency of restoration actions that could benefit a wide range of ecosystem attributes and demonstrate the cost of inaction.
  • The committee also compared the consequences of three restoration scenarios—(1) improved water quality with no increase in flow, (2) improved hydrology, with no additional water quality treatment, and (3) both improved hydrology and water quality. The committee's analyses demonstrates that scenarios focused on either the quality of existing water flows or hydrology would improve some ecosystem attributes, but lead to continued declines in others. Improving both water quality and quantity would yield improvements in every ecosystem attribute investigated, but depending on the implementation schedule could take some time to achieve. This analysis highlights the need for rigorous analysis at the interface of water quality and quantity involving integrated models and field data to clarify potential conflicts between restoration objectives and to identify interim strategies for limiting further degradation of critical ecosystem components and maximizing restoration benefits.
  • Models that integrate hydrology, water quality, and ecology are essential tools to understand and evaluate the benefits and impacts of various restoration options. Progress has been made in developing linked hydrologic and ecological models, but no ecological models have been approved for use in benefits analysis for CERP. Water quality models applied to project planning should analyze a range of inflow water quality conditions, including those that exceed targeted levels. Being overly cautious with respect to water quality modeling and analysis could prevent a thorough exploration of restoration options and limit the understanding of water quality constraints on hydrologic restoration projects.
  • An impressive and growing body of scientific literature on the Everglades has been published in recent years, and recent science syntheses have helped advance understanding among scientists and decision makers. However, clearer acknowledgement of conflicts and tradeoffs among the restoration solutions being considered would help increase success.
  • The committee concluded that a focus on restoring the central core of the historical Everglades is needed to reverse ongoing degradation before it's too late. Avoiding costly and unproductive delays in the project planning and authorization process will be important to maintain the pace of progress.
  • The committee is encouraged by the Central Everglades Planning Project, a new initiative that expedites the planning of the next increment of projects focused on the core of the remnant Everglades. The project appears to be an important step forward and responsive to earlier committee concerns. However, the committee has not reviewed specific project plans, as the planning process was only in the early stages during the preparation of this report.