The Everglades is now slowly dying of thirst.
More than 100 years of drainage destroyed over half of the historic Everglades, reducing the flow of water by more than 70 percent. This sparked a ten-fold increase in the incidence of wildfires. The Everglades is essential for cleansing and purifying the water that flows from the north into the sensitive ecosystems off our southwestern coast and the Florida Keys. The Everglades provides much needed water storage from our seasonal rainfall, providing the growing public need for pure and clean water.
The story of the Everglades is an urgent, multi-faceted tale of environmental destruction. Over the last several decades its plot has included business scams, political maneuvering, invasive species and natural resource devastation and extinction. Recent scientific research, greater public awareness and support, and efforts to create a “total landscape” restoration project have offered hope for this extraordinary resource.
“The People of the Glades” migrated to Southern Florida 11,000 years ago. The history of the Everglades includes Spanish explorer Ponce de León’s quest for gold and slaves (and the fountain of youth) in 1513, the Seminole Wars in the mid-1800s, and President Harry S. Truman’s dedication of Everglades National Park in 1947.
Beginning in the 1950s and 60s, development in South Florida began to swallow the Everglades. Land scams – or property misrepresented and sold off as investments to unknowing citizens, canal systems that drained surface water, abandoned roadway grids, non-existent “neighborhoods,” squatters and destructive land use were all part of its history.
The Everglades of today is less than half of its original size, and has lost over 70 percent of its water flow. This loss has altered the ecosystem, particularly the timing and volume of the water supply needed to maintain the biological integrity of these wetlands. The number of native birds and other wildlife has dwindled and some have vanished completely.
The Everglades is one of the largest wetlands in the world and is essential for cleansing and purifying water that flows from the north before it enters Florida Bay and Keys area off the southern tip of Florida. It also provides much needed storage for a state that receives its annual rainfall in a feast or famine scenario, with months of drought necessitating surficial storage of water to feed natural systems and the growing public water supply need.
Stormwater runoff from development north of Lake Okeechobee in the Kissimmee watershed is now feeding more polluted water than ever into the headwaters of the Everglades. The Lake is now used as a reservoir for public water supply, putting an immense stress on a dike that was not constructed to bear such a burden. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers were dredged to connect them to Lake Okeechobee for the purpose of discharging excessive water from the lake to prevent flooding.
To save the Everglades, as well as Lake Okeechobee and the connected rivers and estuaries, would take nothing less than a system-wide solution of re-plumbing South Florida. A minimum of 200,000 acres is needed to store water south of the lake but north of the remaining Everglades in what is now referred to as the Everglades Agricultural Area, to allow the water to flow south, being stored and cleansed on its way as it historically did.
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