Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Despite exceptional project planning accomplishments, over the past two years progress toward restoring the Everglades has been slowed by frustrating financial and procedural constraints. The Central Everglades Planning Project is an impressive strategy to accelerate Everglades restoration and avert further degradation by increasing water flow to the ecosystem. However, timely authorization, funding, and creative policy and implementation strategies will be essential to realize important near-term restoration benefits. At the same time, climate change and the invasion of nonnative plant and animal species further challenge the Everglades ecosystem. The impacts of changing climate-- especially sea-level rise-- add urgency to restoration efforts to make the Everglades more resilient to changing conditions.

Key Messages

  • Most Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) progress has been focused on the edges of the historic Everglades, and ecosystem declines continue in the central Everglades. The Central Everglades Planning Project prioritizes increments (or components) of a number of CERP projects described in the original restoration plan. Implementation of the plan would provide significant new water flow to the central Everglades, equivalent to approximately two-thirds of the new water envisioned in the CERP.
  • Creative solutions could help expedite restoration, for example by finding permit mechanisms to move clean water into the Everglades prior to completion of the entire Restoration Strategies project. Without such solutions, redistribution of existing water may not be feasible until 2035 or beyond, and at the envisioned funding level of $100 million per year, construction would not be completed for approximately four decades.
  • The report found that the infrequency of Water Resources Development Acts (the congressional mechanism for authorizing CERP projects exceeding $25 million), the availability of funding, and cost-sharing challenges have impeded CERP progress over the past two years. The Water Resources and Reform Development Act 2014 -- the first authorization in seven years -- enabled four additional CERP projects to proceed with federal funding, although the Central Everglades Planning Project was not completed in time to be included in the legislation.
  • The Integrated Delivery Schedule, which lays out construction plans for the next decade, needs to be revisited to integrate the newly authorized projects and the Central Everglades Planning Project with existing restoration efforts. Amid limited funding, all projects cannot be advanced equally, and planners should consider factors such as climate change and sea-level rise to determine which projects have the greatest potential for restoration benefits.
  • Sea-level rise has already increased saltwater intrusion into Everglades freshwater habitats and urban water supplies, and future changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to affect the timing, volume, and quality of freshwater and distribution of species, as well as increasing agricultural water demands. Although they challenge to restoration efforts, climate change and sea level rise provide a strong incentive for accelerating restoration to enhance the ecosystem’s ability to withstand and adapt to future changes. For example, improvements in Everglades water depths would promote higher rates of peat accretion to reduce wetland loss caused by sea level rise.
  • The report recommends that climate change be incorporated into adaptive management planning at both the project scale and in system wide goals, and planners should design for flexibility so new knowledge and improved climate change projections can be incorporated as they become available and future restoration efforts can be adjusted appropriately.
  • Planners should also consider the implications of restoration activities on nonnative species. The invasion of nonnative plants and animals displace native species and disrupt ecosystem structure and function, and some projects may affect the extent and abundance of nonnative species populations. Although there has been good coordination of invasive species management at the project level, strategic coordination over management and research priorities is lacking, the report found.
  • Effective prioritization of invasive species management requires a comprehensive understanding of all nonnative species present in the Everglades and their impacts and threats, as well as those of impending or possible new arrivals. Substantial research is needed to assess the various impacts of nonnative species on the ecosystem and its native species to determine which species could reasonably be predicted to have considerable ecological impacts. A strategic early detection and rapid response system that addresses all areas, habitats, and species is needed, the report says.
  • Scientific research provides the knowledge and tools that can help decision makers ensure the substantial resources invested in Everglades restoration are used wisely. Long-term monitoring collects useful information for understanding how projects are changing ecosystem conditions. A comprehensive re-evaluation of restoration-related monitoring is needed to determine its adequacy considering budget pressures, extended implementation timeframes, and potential impacts of climate change and sea-level rise. In addition, renewed attention to science coordination and communication is needed, which includes adequate funding and staff and a clear charge to address critical science needs from a restoration perspective.