Restoring the Everglades through Smarter Water Management
The Florida Everglades are the largest single tract of wilderness east of the Rocky Mountains and are considered a national treasure in the United States. It is actually also an indirect water resource, considering the need for aquifer recharge and prevention of salt water intrusion. But due to human development, as much as half of the Everglades wetlands have been lost since the late 1800s. Because of increased urbanization in the Everglades, approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades have been converted into agricultural and urban areas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
This degradation has created a formidable problem for local officials. They were tasked with discovering how to revitalize the natural water flow to the 2.4 million-acre marsh, revive the habitat for more than 60 threatened and endangered species, establish a more reliable water supply for millions of Floridians, and provide flood control for the South Florida area.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) was formed to address these issues. They have worked to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades, using highly advanced technologies and water management techniques.
One of the project’s more notable approaches is to capture freshwater that currently flows to the ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and to redirect it to areas in need. The water is then used for environmental restoration and to help improve the Everglades ecosystem. CERP has constructed 52,000 acres of man-made treatment marshes and provided local farmers with advanced water quality technologies and information on best practices.
So far, CERP has successfully prevented more than 2,678 tons of agriculture-related phosphorus from entering the Everglades ecosystem. A decade ago, the area averaged 170 phosphorus parts per billion; today, those same areas average as low as 12 parts per billion.
While this is an improvement, there is still work to be done to improve the Everglades ecosystem. The task facing CERP illustrates the challenges faced by many communities, challenges which are expected to increase unless we begin to implement more sustainable practices worldwide.