Biennial Review says stronger Science support needed as Everglades Restoration pivots from planning to operations

Posted 3/17/21

WASHINGTON — As the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) pivots from planning to operations

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Biennial Review says stronger Science support needed as Everglades Restoration pivots from planning to operations


WASHINGTON — As the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) pivots from planning to operations, a strong organizational foundation for science will be essential to inform management and future actions for the ecosystem, which remains vulnerable to continued degradation, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

A stronger organizational foundation for science — including appropriate staffing and dedicated science leadership to support more effective monitoring and data analysis, increased synthesis, and enhanced applications of modeling tools — would benefit decision-making, improve assessment of restoration projects, and make communication more effective, says Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Eighth Biennial Review. Investing in science infrastructure would also improve the value of project data and lead to more effective environmental restoration. Systems thinking and analysis by scientists will be especially important to the future success and effectiveness of the program.

The CERP, a multibillion dollar, multidecadal effort designed by Florida and the federal government, was launched in 2000 to reverse the decline of the Everglades. A large and treasured ecosystem, the Everglades has been dramatically altered by drainage and water management infrastructure that was intended to improve flood control, urban water supply, and agricultural production.

“Record state and federal funding in recent years for this program has fueled enormous progress in implementation,” said Charles T. Driscoll, University Professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse University, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “But as the CERP moves into its next phase, scientific leadership and support of the program will be critical if it is to make more visible progress in restoring this still-vulnerable ecosystem.”

Assessing CERP Progress
The report reviews the CERP’s accomplishments, progress, and issues that may impact future work. State and federal funding for the program has increased significantly in recent years, expediting project construction and ultimately resulting in faster restoration that could mitigate ongoing degradation of the Everglades.

A number of issues remain that may affect the plan’s progress. CERP projects so far have been disconnected and relatively small in scope, resulting in fewer detectable signs of restoration at a system scale. Limitations in monitoring and analyzing progress have impeded the ability to communicate and assess restoration benefits of the CERP.

Estuaries Under Threat
The Everglades’ estuaries remain under threat from water quality issues, harmful algal blooms, and habitat degradation. Climate change and sea level rise will also have major effects on the Everglades’ estuaries. Some of these threats fall outside the direct influence of the CERP, but could nevertheless limit its capacity to achieve its goals. The report recommends advancements in science and modeling tools to better understand the impacts these threats may have on meeting restoration goals and public expectations, informing management decisions, and developing strategies that will provide long-term restoration benefits.

Review of the Combined Operational Plan
The committee reviewed the Combined Operational Plan, a comprehensive water control plan for the Everglades. The plan is expected to deliver significant benefits, setting the stage for restoration in the central Everglades and creating an opportunity to learn how the environment responds to restoration. However, existing levels of flood risk management could constrain the plan. The plan also offers a chance to inform future project design and program management, but the potential benefits of its adaptive management program depend upon adequate staff support and resources.

The study — undertaken by the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress — was sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of the Interior, and South Florida Water Management District. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.