The Florida Everglades
The Florida Everglades have been adversely impacted for decades because of human attempts to control this historical ‘River of Grass’. The reason for our insistence on attempting to control and manage the area can be defined in one word: water. There has always been plenty of water available within the Everglades’ ecosystem, but no logical way to extract it. Our extraction efforts eventually led to devastating results. My paper will focus on the initial policy and practices involved in the extensive downgrading of this once biologically unequaled ecosystem; as well as discuss recent policy initiatives that have been implemented in order to restore the Everglades to its once magnificent status. I will attempt to define the pertinent issues, priorities, actors, and instruments, as well as discuss lessons that can be taken from this case study.
In its natural state, the South Florida ecosystem was connected by the flow of water south from Lake Okeechobee through vast freshwater marshes, known as the Everglades, to Florida Bay and on to the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. The Everglades covered approximately 18,000 square miles and were the heart of a unique and biologically productive and unique region, supporting vast colonies of wading birds, a mixture of temperate and tropical plant and animal species, along with abundant coastal fisheries. These exceptional natural resources were nationally recognized with the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947. In 1948, Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida Project in response to a series of devastating floods that had occurred in the area. This project authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to provide: flood control; regional water supply for agricultural and urban areas; prevention of salt water intrusion; water supply to Everglades National Park; preservation of fish and wildlife; recreation; and navigation.
For more than 50 years since the Central and Southern Florida Project, major ventures have been ongoing which have focused on the provision of fresh water for human-development projects and flood protection. In order to provide water for residential, commercial, and agricultural uses, the natural flow of hundreds of small rivers and streams contained within the Everglades were altered. Revisions included redirecting river flows from winding to straight, draining wetland areas to provide agricultural land, and channelizing rivers by creating high concrete banks to provide flood control. Consequently, the Everglades and its dependent natural community have been highly impacted in the most adverse way.
However, recently this all began to change. In the late summer of 2000, Congress passed the REAL Act, (Restoring the Everglades – an American Legacy Act) which puts forth a plan to revitalize the Everglade ecosystem by removing much of the canal system present, allowing wetlands to be re-established and protected, and...