Everglades Foundation speakers urged Florida Keys residents and visitors to call their federal and state representatives to urge favorable votes on Everglades funding. The Florida Bay ecosystem is on the brink again, they said, and expertise exists along with a plan to solve the problems regarding water flow in the Everglades. They spoke to a crowd of 100 people Jan. 27 at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center in Islamorada during its monthly lecture series.
Erik Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation since 2012, and Steve Davis, an ecologist with a Ph.D., said the Legacy Florida Act would bring $200 million to Everglades National Park for projects that “have to occur” to restore freshwater flow. The needed projects are outlined in the “CERP” or Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that was approved in 2000 after droughts in the 1980s and 1990s pushed the Everglades ecosystem to the brink the first time. Seagrass and buttonwood mangrove die-offs occurred due to too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the system and not enough freshwater flow which increased the bay’s salinity. Birds and fish were adversely affected as well.
Eikenberg said Florida’s critical freshwater system starts in the Orlando area, continues to the Kissimmee River and through Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and Florida Bay. As early as the 1920s, decisions were made near Okeechobee diverting water flow that adversely affect the ecosystem. The CERP, which was estimated to cost $8 billion 16 years ago, needs political will to get it implemented, he said.
Among the problems affecting Florida Bay (which is on the western side of the Florida Keys), Davis said, is that historical freshwater flow through Taylor Slough and Shark River Slough have been altered. And despite the CERP, problems have reached a critical point. In 2015, these areas experienced three “minimum flow and levels” violations, he said. “The fuse is lit.” It remains to be seen whether the situation can be remedied.
Increased salinity is present, Davis explained. Because salt does not evaporate, it concentrates and it is at its highest ever concentration: 72 parts per 1000, he said.
A strange yellow fog was observed over the Everglades and it has been determined to be a symptom of the suffering bay. “What happened in the 1980s and 1990s is our guide as to what happens next.” A large-scale algae bloom initiating a downward spiral of the health of the bay is possible.
Among the scheduled solutions are a 2.6-mile Tamiami Trail Bridge along Highway 41 and a C-111 Spreader Canal project. They need funding and fast implementation.
To help the cause, the foundation suggested calling Congressman Carlo Curbelo at 202-225-2278, State Representative Holly Raschein at 850-717-5120 and Dwight Bullard at 850-487-5039 to urge them to fund and implement the CERP and Everglades restoration.
Its website is www.evergladesfoundation.org.
The Everglades exhibit remains at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center . To learn more, visit http://www.keysdiscovery.com/