The Everglades is the largest wetland of its kind in North America, but it’s been under assault for generations by residential development, water diversion and pesticide runoff. Now, a massive proposal is one step closer to putting more fresh water back into the ecosystem that covers more than 2,000 square miles of south Florida. Fresh water from the Kissimmee River used to flow south into Lake Okeechobee. During the rainy season, the overflow would go through the Everglades all the way to Florida Bay. But development has blocked much of that natural flow. Experts report that about 50 percent of the Everglades have been lost, and the rest is salvageable by restoring natural flow.
The diversion and disruption of that water are largely responsible forin recent years. Now, nearly 20 years after a major Everglades restoration plan was first agreed upon, the Florida Senate this month finally approved a $1.5 billion reservoir to collect and send some of the overflow back through the Everglades.
“This allows us to restore somewhat of that connection so that we can provide fresh water down to Everglades National Park and especially Florida Bay,” wetland ecologist Steve Davis of the Everglades Foundation said, adding that it’s “recreating the river of grass.”
But beneath the surface, another danger lurks – sea level rise. More salt water is seeping in. Left unchecked, it could one day taint the drinking water supply for 8 million people in south Florida. Dr. Tiffany Troxler, Director of Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center, uses one of her Everglades research projects to demonstrate how salt water is already damaging vital sawgrass plants.
“When we came out here and measured the salt, it was about three times higher than what we thought we would see,” Troxler said.
She said that makes re-introduction of fresh water all the more important. While many think the Everglades are beyond the tipping point, she remains hopeful.
“I like to say that we got ourselves into this mess – we can figure out how to get ourselves out of it,” Troxler said.