There is no place in the world quite like the Everglades. .. America’s Everglades is internationally known for its extraordinary wildlife – from Florida panthers and crocodiles, to manatees and a huge host of birds such as roseate spoonbills, egrets, and wood storks.
Historically, this patchwork of wetlands, estuaries, cypress swamps, pinelands, and sawgrass marshes stretched over 300 miles – from headwaters in central Florida to Lake Okeechobee, where water spilled over the lake’s brim to the south into the crystal clear waters of Florida Bay.. Now, less than half of the historic Everglades remain.
Since the late 1800s, humans have altered the flow of water through South Florida to pave the way for agriculture and residential growth, by draining wetlands and building canals and flood control projects. This severed the flow of water that historically connected Lake Okeechobee – the liquid heart of the Everglades – to Florida Bay. .
Altering the historic flow of water through South Florida has resulted in an economic and ecological nightmare for Florida’s communities and wildlife. During rainy seasons, too much fertilizer-laden water is pumped from Lake Okeechobee to the east and west coasts, sliming the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie River estuaries with toxic blue-green algae. In 2018, the blue-green algae mixed with the worst red tide Florida has seen in over two decades, killing manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, and countless fish. The thick green algae can reach as far as Pine Island Sound, home to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Meanwhile at the state’s southernmost tip, Florida Bay – the iconic fishing paradise that draws millions of anglers from across the nation to fish South Florida’s waters year after year – receives too little freshwater, causing salinity to spike, killing seagrass beds, the habitat that shelters and feeds the bay’s abundant fish and shellfish, and that helps keep its waters clear. The fragile bay can also experience algal blooms fueled by lost habitat and the decay of dead grass.
There is one solution all these different problems: Everglades restoration. The National Wildlife Federation supports key projects that will allow water to move more like it historically did from Lake Okeechobee south. These projects will allow water to be stored, cleaned, and sent to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay and reduce the frequency and volume of the polluted water to Florida’s east and west coasts each year, improving fish and wildlife habitat and protecting coastal communities. These projects are part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which was passed by Congress in 2000.
The holdup on many of these projects is funding. In recent years, the state of Florida has funded Everglades restoration at more than $200 million per year, while federal appropriations – intended to match the state’s – have decreased dramatically. In order to protect this important resource, the federal government must ensure $200 million is available each year for the US Army Corps of Engineers to work on Everglades restoration. Annually funding Everglades restoration at $200 million will help the Army Corps move quickly to complete design, planning, and construction of important restoration projects. This funding is critical to advance the progress made to restore America’s Everglades, Florida Bay, and Caloosahatchee River Estuary – and will benefit the health of the Gulf of Mexico.