Water Management

Challenges Part 1: Water Management and Distribution

The Florida Everglades, has been dramatically altered over the past century by an extensive water control infrastructure, designed to increase regional economic productivity through improved flood control, urban water supply, and agricultural production.

The remnants of the original Everglades now compete for vital water with urban and agricultural interests. [6]

These profound hydrologic alterations were and are accompanied by many changes to the communities in the ecosystem, including reductions and changes in the composition, distribution, and abundance of the populations of wading birds, the most visible component of the Everglades biota and symbolic to many stakeholders of the status of the entire ecosystem.

As we have come to understood better what is causing declines in bird species, as well as other key species like pink shrimp and oysters, Florida Bay aquatic vegetation and periphyton, or the health of alligators and crocodiles, the distribution of water has usually emerged at the core of the problem (see stoplight indicators). Other examples have been the drowning of tree islands in Water Conservation Area 3A and 2A (continual flooding), drying of the marshes east of Shark Slough (continual low water), and the dramatic decline of seaside sparrows west of Shark Slough (too much flooding).  The effects of reduced seasonal water flows are increasing salinity in the estuaries and failure to maintain the topography.

The historic issue is less that there has been too much or too little water in the Everglades, though more flow is needed primarily to maintain the physical elements of the landscape. More important, water level fluctuations have been altered in the various compartments (Water Conservation Areas, Stormwater Treatment Areas, canals in populated areas versus wild areas) by water being held too high or too low; and it has been restricted in depth fluctuation.

Water and its distribution were viewed as the central problem to be solved by the creation of the multi billion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades called The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Their website tells us that: The goal of CERP is to capture fresh water that now flows unused to the ocean and the gulf and redirect it to areas that need it most. The majority of the water will be devoted to environmental restoration, reviving a dying ecosystem. The remaining water will benefit cities and farmers by enhancing water supplies for the south Florida economy. Unfortunately, competition for priority in the management of water is by no means as simple as this statement makes it sound. The urban and agricultural areas still receive most consideration when conflicts arise. As analyses in the stoplight indicators and other scientific studies show, the imbalance in water levels (both too high and too low) remains a major reason for The Everglades’ decline.

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