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Can Florida Bay Be Saved Before It's Too Late?

August 11, 2009 06:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The ecology of Florida Bay is imperiled, and saving it depends largely on the health of the Florida Everglades. How can the bay be revitalized?

Florida Bay Hangs By a Thread

With its unique ecosystem supporting a range of flora and fauna, and fishing and tourism industries worth millions, Florida Bay is undeniably valuable. Yet the ecosystem of the bay, which covers an area almost three times the size of New York City, has been so abused that experts are now fearful of a total collapse, according to Brian Skoloff of The Associated Press.

Florida Bay used to be fed a mix of freshwater from the once formidable Florida Everglades, and saltwater pouring in from the Gulf of Mexico, Skoloff reports. But overdevelopment in South Florida, to the detriment of the Glades, is severely impacting the bay by cutting off the freshwater supply.

Florida has long struggled to restore the flow of the Everglades while attempting to cut down on runoff-induced pollution from nearby "sugar farms, cow pastures and urban sprawl," according to Skoloff. As for how the Everglades might be restored, sugar farms could be the answer. 

The U.S. Sugar Corp Purchase

Florida is trying to purchase $536 million worth of Everglades land from U.S. Sugar Corp, which would allow the state to halt sugar production and build reservoirs and water treatment and storage facilities, according to Skoloff. The purchase faces opposition, however, from the Miccosukee tribe, whose ancestral home is in the Everglades, and from Florida Crystals, which produces organic and natural sweeteners and is U.S. Sugar's main rival.

A ruling on the case is expected later this month, according to the AP, which reports that Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee tribe claim the purchase "is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and could further delay Everglades restoration efforts."

An editorial in The Miami Herald asserts that two key decisions by the South Florida Water Management District governing board could "begin to stem the Bay's collapse." First, the Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must settle an agreement on how to divvy up costs and responsibilities regarding "projects to replumb the Everglades." Secondly, once the court's decision is made regarding the purchase of U.S. Sugar Corp land, the board must vote in favor of the $536 million purchase.

Background: Everglades restoration efforts

According to The Tampa Tribune, federal dollars are finally making their way to Everglades restoration efforts. President Obama has allocated $360 million to the restoration efforts this fiscal year, and intends to push for an additional $278 million next year. Federal funding will go toward building "large filtering reservoirs needed to cleanse agricultural runoff that flows into the Everglades."

Time is of the essence, however. According to a 2008 report by the National Academy of Sciences, slow restoration progress was increasing the cost of the project, and waiting too long could mean deterioration of the Everglades "beyond repair," The Tampa Tribune reported.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was approved in 2000 and its "more than 60 elements" were predicted to take at least 30 years to build and were expected to cost more than $10 billion. According to the CERP official Web site, the plan's goal "is to capture fresh water that now flows unused to the ocean and the gulf and redirect it to areas that need it most." Environmental restoration projects will receive most of the water, with the rest going to "cities and farmers" in south Florida.

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