FAQs: What you should know about the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)
1. What is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan?
The primary and overarching purpose of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan [Comprehensive Plan or CERP] is to restore the south Florida ecosystem, which includes the Everglades. This purpose has guided all aspects of the Plan's development and proposed implementation. It is a framework and guide to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of the greater Everglades ecosystem. The Plan has been described as the world's largest ecosystem restoration effort, and includes restoring natural flows of water, water quality, and more natural hydro-periods within the remaining natural areas. The Plan is intended to result in a sustainable south Florida by restoring the ecosystem, ensuring clean and reliable water supplies and providing flood protection. Read more about The Plan and Benefits of the Plan.
2. What are the principles or tenets for the Comprehensive Plan?
The guiding principles for the Comprehensive Plan are:
- The overarching objective of the Comprehensive Plan is the restoration, preservation and protection of the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region.
- The Comprehensive Plan is based on the best available science, and independent scientific review is an integral part of its development and implementation.
- The Comprehensive Plan was developed through an inclusive and open process that engaged all stakeholders and interest groups.
- Numerous federal, tribal, state and local agencies were full partners and their views were considered fully.
- The Comprehensive Plan is a flexible plan that is based on the concept of adaptive assessment - recognizing that modifications will be made in the future based on new information.
3. What was the process for developing the Comprehensive Plan?
The process for developing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was an open and inclusive. Interested members of the public worked alongside the more than 100 scientists and resource specialists developed the physical and biological performance and measures used to evaluate and design the Plan. Through a workshop process, a set of conceptual ecological models for each of the major landscape features in south Florida was developed. Each model linked the major effects of humans to changes in nature. Each model showed the critical linkages between the hydrology and the natural indicators, such as alligators, pink shrimp and wading birds, and suggested the most appropriate indicators and measures for each landscape. Ultimately, a final recommended Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was developed and was approved in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. The Comprehensive Plan will be continually updated as more detailed and refined information becomes available.
4. Is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan based on sound science?
Sound science has always been, and continues to be, the basis for the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan was developed by a team that included biologists, ecologists, economists, engineers, geographic information systems specialists, hydrologists and planners from a number of federal, state, tribal and local government agencies. Throughout the plan development process, the team used the best available data and state-of-the-art scientific and engineering models.
Peer review is an integral part of the Plan, and will be used to validate the scientific underpinnings of the Plan and point out needed adjustments. State-of-the-art scientific and engineering models were used. To develop the restoration plan, the Natural System Model and the South Florida Water Management Model, both of which have undergone technical peer review, represent the best understanding of the hydrology of both the pre-drainage and the current C&SF system. The Across Trophic Level System Simulation model was developed to predict animal species responses to hydrologic changes. Read more.
5. This restoration has been a long time in coming, hasn't it? Are things really as bad in the Everglades as they say?
The Comprehensive Plan got its start nearly 50 years after the Everglades was forever changed with levees and drainage canals that made way for growth. In 1948, Congress directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to undertake a project which essentially drained much of the marsh to prevent flooding, irrigate farm lands and provide drinking water to facilitate new development. Since then, the altered water flow has eaten away half of the Everglades and water quality has been compromised. Virtually all of the features of the Plan will benefit the environment. Together, these features improve the quality, quantity, timing and distribution of water flows to the ecosystem. The storage features of the Plan serve multiple objectives because of the interconnection between water in the natural, agricultural, and urban areas.
6. How does increasing water supply restore the Everglades?
Approximately 1.7 billion gallons of water drains from the Everglades to coastal waters each day. The plan captures most of this water and stores it in surface and underground storage areas until it is needed to supply the natural system as well as urban and agricultural needs.
The timing and distribution of water to the ecosystem will be modified to more closely approximate pre-drainage patterns. In order to improve the quality of water discharged into the natural system, wetlands-based storm water treatment areas will be built. To improve the connectivity of natural areas, approximately 240 miles of internal levees and canals will be removed, which will result in the recovery of a healthy, sustainable ecosystem in south Florida. Analyses show that approximately 80 percent of the new water obtained under the Plan will be used to benefit the environment. The remaining 20 percent will benefit urban and agricultural users.
7. How does the Plan benefit Everglades National Park?
The Plan will directly benefit Everglades National Park in several ways. Most importantly, the Plan greatly improves the quality, quantity, timing, and distribution of flows into the Park. In addition, more than 240 miles of canals and levees within the Everglades will be removed to reestablish the natural sheetflow of water through the Park. That change will support the return of the large nesting rookeries of wading birds to the Park and the recovery of several endangered species such as the wood stork, snail kite and Cape Sable seaside sparrow.
8. Why doesn't the Plan include flows that mirror original flow through the Everglades?
The team of scientists and engineers who developed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan worked diligently to restore the water flows that were characteristic of the historic Everglades ecosystem. The team found, however, that replicating the exact flow patterns throughout the entire Everglades ecosystem would not be possible. The Everglades historic flow patterns were molded by, not only the geographic features of the Everglades, but also its spatial extent. Only about 50% of the historic Everglades now remain - the other 50% has been lost forever to agriculture and urban development. Further, it has been found that recreating the exact flows in some areas of the Everglades may result in damaging flows and levels to other places today.
The restoration team remains committed, however, to continuing its efforts to restore to the greatest extent possible, the historic flows to the Everglades ecosystem.
9. Why do we need a Plan to restore the Everglades?
The greater Everglades ecosystem is nationally significant and a unique natural resource treasure of the world. If we do not act now, irretrievable loss of this extraordinary resource will occur. The remaining Everglades no longer exhibit the functions and richness that defined the pre-drainage ecosystem. There has been a substantial reduction in the size of the Everglades. Total water storage, timing, flow patterns, and water quality within the Greater Everglades ecosystem have been substantially altered. The Comprehensive Plan is intended to reverse the course of the declining health of the ecosystem. It is important to understand that the "restored" Everglades of the future will be different from any version of the Everglades than has existed in the past. Due to the irreversible physical changes that have occurred in the ecosystem, the restored Everglades will be smaller and somewhat differently arranged than the historic ecosystem. With the restoration of the hydrological and biological patterns which defined the original Everglades and which made it unique among the world's wetland systems, this successfully restored ecosystem will once again exhibit the richness of biological diversity of the former Everglades.
10. So where do you start? How do you start?
The landmark Everglades Restoration Act, which President Clinton signed on December 11, 2000, authorizes $1.4 billion in federal spending to begin work on a handful of initial projects. State and federal sponsors must return to Congress every two years to get new projects authorized as the restoration moves forward.
The comprehensive plan will begin with ten construction elements and four pilot projects. Workers will tear down levees, fill canals and construct new water storage areas on land formerly preserved for agriculture or new development. We will address lessons learned as we continue each step in the process and apply new science and technology as we progress.
11. Are there any technical uncertainties?
While most issues have been resolved, some remain. Some of the technologies proposed - such as aquifer storage and recovery and seepage control - are already in use, but have not been implemented on the scale proposed in the Plan. A series of pilot projects will address these uncertainties and help to direct future design and implementation. In addition, scientific and engineering models were used to develop the Plan. Although these models have undergone rigorous peer review, models are only approximations of very complex systems. As we draw conclusions and work towards implementing the Plan, we will recognize the limitations of these models. Additional interagency and independent peer review during the more detailed design of each feature will allow us to make any needed adjustments. Some differences of professional opinion have characterized each step in the evolution of the Plan and indicate a healthy diversity in backgrounds, interest and agency missions. The flexibility and openness of the implementation process will provide for this continual dialogue and improvements to the Plan.
12. Will the lessons learned from the Kissimmee River Restoration Project serve as a model for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan?
The successes achieved with the initial phases of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project are proving invaluable to the planning and implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The CERP team, made up of scientists and engineers from federal, state and local agencies is convinced that both science and engineering technology, proven in the restoration of the Kissimmee River, are coming together in CERP. The Kissimmee project is currently on schedule and has a target completion date of September 2013.
13. Will this Plan make south Florida sustainable?
With no change the region soon will experience frequent water shortages. There will be continued degradation of the Everglades, coastal estuaries, fisheries and other natural resources. Flooding will become more frequent.
Implementation of the Plan will result in the recovery of healthy, sustainable ecosystems in south Florida. The Plan will lead to a stronger economy and a much-improved environment for people, animals and plants that depend on the natural system for their survival. The Plan will redirect how water is stored in south Florida so that excess water is not lost to the ocean, and instead can be used to support the ecosystem as well as urban and agricultural needs. Projections of future water demands without the Plan indicate serious levels of water supply cutbacks and significant impacts to natural areas. Under the Plan, new storage facilities will be built throughout the region to ensure a more reliable water source for the natural, urban and agricultural areas. The ability to sustain the region's natural resources, economy, and quality of life depends, to a great extent, on the success of the efforts to enhance, protect and better manage the region's water resources.
The Comprehensive Plan contains essential components to achieve the goal of making south Florida sustainable. No other plan, especially one on a smaller scale or one lacking appropriate balance between ecosystem restoration and future urban and agricultural water supply objectives, will achieve a similar level of success.
14. How long will it take to restore the Everglades?
We expect to see improvements in a regional ecosystem within the first years of a project's completion. In fact, coupled with the projects currently underway in the Kissimmee River basin and other areas, gradual, but very important, improvements in ecosystem function, water flows and returning species have aleady been documented. However, it will take a few decades, and the composite impact of many projects to obtain all of the benefits that the Plan envisioned.
15. Does the plan produce environmental improvements by the year 2010?
Yes, some environmental improvements can be made by the year 2010. This was clearly demonstrated through model runs that were conducted in June 1999. However, the process to identify the best approach by completing all the required modelling, gaining stakeholder consensus, achieving federal and sponsorship authorization as well as funding has at times lagged early estimates. New model runs included modifications to the construction sequencing of the plan components and improved operational rules. These changes showed vast improvements in ecosystem function. The model runs represent the foundation upon which the USACE and the South Florida Water Management District are basing further refinements (structural and operational) of the individual CERP components. These types of refinements are an important part of plan implementation. An interagency team was formed to monitor and assess the progress of achieving ecosystem benefits as we proceed.
16. Why can't we restore the ecosystem faster?
Perhaps first and foremost, ecosystems do not always respond immediately after a specific hydrologic change is implemented. Just as it took the ecosystem many years to respond to the negative changes made 50 years ago, ecological responses to our improvements will also take time. Second, time is needed to plan and design the specific features in more detail before they can be built. Pilot projects must be implemented and monitored in order to reduce the uncertainty associated with some of the elements of the Plan. Finally, an incremental approach to implementation provides opportunities to assess performance and refine plans to more effectively meet overall restoration objectives.
17. What have the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park (MWD) and C-111 projects accomplished to date to enable water to be delivered to Everglades National Park?
Implementation of the Modified Water Deliveries and C-111 projects has been particularly difficult. Despite these difficulties, some progress on each of the projects has been made.
The Modified Deliveries Project has increased flows to Everglades National Park. This was begun in 1999, with the raising of the Tigertail Camp. Completion of this mitigation feature allowed for higher water levels in the L29 canal. The L29 canal water flows through the culverts into Northeast Shark River Slough and is delivered to Everglades National Park (ENP).
In the summer of 2002, construction of the S356 pump station will be completed which will provide seepage control to the lands east of L31N and enable higher water levels in Northeast Shark River Slough.
On the C-111 project, in 1999, the S332D pump station was completed which has provided additional flows into Taylor Slough.
In 2001, the Taylor Slough Bridge raising and lengthening was completed. This opening has removed the constriction previously in place and has enabled the water to flow into Taylor Slough in a more natural fashion.
In the summer of 2002, S332B pump station, S332C pump station and detention areas will be completed. This will allow the hydrologic ridge to be created between Everglades National Park and the areas to the east of L31N. This hydrologic ridge will lessen the amount of seepage water from ENP to the lands to the east of L31N.
18. Is the Plan flexible enough to take into account new information or to address unexpected situations?
Unequivocally, yes! A major strength of the Plan is that it flexibility allows for opportunities to make further improvements as individual projects are refined and we obtain new information. The Plan does not provide all the answers - no plan could. It does, however, contain an aggressive adaptive assessment strategy that includes independent scientific peer review and a process for identifying and resolving uncertainties. This approach provides an efficient way to allow restoration to move forward now and for the agencies to make necessary mid-course corrections later.
19. I'm concerned about the development of south Florida. What do I need to know about the Corps' regulatory program? What are the Corps of Engineers' authorities to regulate development?
The Corps does not regulate development. For more information on the Corps' regulatory program and its relationship to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, click here.
20. What is the relationship between the State of Florida's Lakebelt Master Plan and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project?
The Corps as a permitting agency is neither a proponent nor an opponent of the Lakebelt mining plan which was an agreement reached between the miners and the state. The miners filed applications for Clean Water Act permits, and the Corps evaluated those applications according to the standards and procedures established by Corps regulations and policies. Each of the applications was examined according on its own merits.
Corps planners and engineers studying the future of the Everglades were aware of the pending applications, the details of the plan and state permitting and have taken those factors into account in planning the Everglades restoration.
The CERP includes two reservoirs in the footprint of the Lake Belt. These reservoirs, known as the Central and Northern Lake Belt Storage Areas, are designed to store water for restoration of ecologically significant natural areas in south Florida. The engineering designs of these features include a subterranean barrier to reduce the movement of water into and out of these storage areas and adjacent groundwater.
The Central Lake Belt reservoir is designed to capture excess water, water that the scientists determine to be ecologically damaging, from Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3. This clean water would then be delivered to Everglades and Biscayne Bay National Parks when these natural areas need additional water flow. The effect of this feature is a reduction of damaging high water levels in Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 and restoration of more natural timing of water flows into Everglades and Biscayne Bay National Parks.
The Northern Lake Belt reservoir is designed to capture excess urban runoff, water that would be discharged to tide, from the urban canal system. This water is would be delivered back to the urban canal system to maintain the ground water table in the urban areas. The effect of this feature is a significant reduction in water deliveries from Lake Okeechobee and the Water Conservation Areas to help maintain the groundwater table and thwart saltwater intrusion into freshwater wells. This reduction in water deliveries from natural areas means clean water is available to achieve ecological objectives within these sensitive areas. Read more about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lake Belt Permits.
21. How much will it cost to implement the Plan?
The original estimate (1998) indicated that implementation of the Plan will cost $7.8 billion; and that an additional $182 million will be needed annually to operate, maintain and monitor the plan. In general, the Federal government will pay half the cost. The State of Florida will pay the other half. More specific arrangements concerning which agencies will pay the state costs, and when payments will be made, have yet to be determined.