March 1999 Volume 6, Number 2
by John Byrne Barry
Club demands restoration now, water for suburbs later.
Fifty years ago, the federal government authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to build 1,500 miles of canals and levees in south Florida to divert water from the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee into the Atlantic Ocean. The plan was to minimize flooding, develop an agriculture industry on the areas's peat-rich lands and supply water to growing cities.
But the plan succeeded too well, said Jonathan Ullman, the Sierra Club's regional representative in Miami. Today, there are booming sugar and dairy farms and more than 5 million people living in south Florida. The Everglades, meanwhile, are dying for lack of water.
Enter the "Everglades Restudy," an ambitious $7.8 billion, 40-year plan to rework south Florida's complex plumbing system and restore the ecosystem's natural
balance, a goal the Sierra Club strongly supports.
But the conservation gains won't be seen for more than a decade, said Ullman, while a doubling of the water supply for projected suburban growth comes first. The Club will oppose any plan, he said, that doesn't include substantial improvements for the Everglades ecosystem during its first decade.
To that end, the Club has called for an independent scientific review of the plan, and, in late January, gained the support of six heavyweight ecologists - including Harvard's E. O. Wilson, Stanford's Paul Ehrlich and the Missouri Botanical Garden's Peter Raven - who wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt calling for a review.
After initially opposing any outside review, Babbitt and state officials have agreed to one. Whether the review process they are calling for will satisfy the Club and its scientist allies - well, that remains to be seen.
The Army Corps expects to submit the plan to Congress by July 1, but environmentalists, sugar farmers, developers and state and federal government officials in south Florida are fighting over if and how much the plan must be changed first.
"Land acquisition for water preserves must come first," said Rod Tirrell, co-chair of Florida Chapter's Everglades Committee. "We can't wait until 2005 to purchase land parcels. They'll be lost to development."
As it stands, the restudy aims to build a series of reservoirs and deep wells to store water for urban areas in the first decade. But two reservoirs intended to provide water to the Everglades won't be completed until 2036.
Tirrell said Everglades restoration pays off quickly, pointing to the successful revival of the Hole-in-the-Donut area. "Six years ago, it was infested with Brazilian pepper, an exotic weed. But as a result of restoration efforts, the indigenous species have sprung back to life. Roots embedded in the limestone have sprouted into trees."
The Army Corps has defended its plan, saying that any building requires starting with a foundation. But Frank Jackalone, the Club's regional representative in St. Petersburg, didn't see it that way: "Are we building the outhouse before the main dwelling?" he asked, in a Palm Beach Post story about the plan.
Jackalone also said the current plan does not adequately address water quality; the water flowing into the Everglades is polluted by agriculture and urban runoff.
He stressed that the Club does not intend to delay the plan going to Congress
for funding, that the scientific review and the needed modifications
don't require a "time out."
For more information: Contact Jonathan Ullman at (305) 476-9898 or email@example.com .
Go on to the alerts, "The Roadless Moratorium Not Taken," and "When the View Ain't So Grand."
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