There's not just water in the Everglades, there's politics too."
– Mary Barley Chair, Everglades Trust
The most significant challenges facing the Everglades today
Historically, the Everglades used to cover most of South Florida, stretching from present-day Orlando all the way south to the Florida Keys. Water from the Kissimmee River would fill Lake Okeechobee and then flow south into the River of Grass. But sadly, this is no longer what the Everglades looks like.
After decades of Everglades degradation, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or, CERP, was authorized by Congress in 2000 as a plan to "restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection."
But, a combination of a broken water management system, a corrupted political system, and 800 square miles of agriculture, primarily, sugar cane in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), have stalled progress on Everglades restoration. We've seen the tragic results of this broken system play out and the impact is tremendous.
Broken water management system
Man has dammed, drained and ditched the lake over the last hundred years for the sake of agriculture and development and now the water can no longer flow south. 800 square miles of sugar cane in the EAA, blocking the flow of water south to the Everglades remains the biggest obstacle to fixing a profoundly broken water management system. To protect the EAA from annual flooding when Lake O fills up, the Army Corps of Engineers sends billions of gallons of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee through rivers that run east and west to Florida's coasts, regardless of the damage it causes.
Broken political system
There is no more obvious symbol of the sugar industry's stranglehold on Florida, or its deathgrip on the state Legislature, than the story of the Everglades reservoir plan.
The plan — to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee back from sugar growers to build a reservoir that would let water flow south through the Everglades after decades of misdirection and mismanagement — was devised in 1996 under the administration of then-Gov. Lawton Chiles and signed into Federal Law by Congress in 2000. The sugar lobby initially claimed it supported the plan, but ultimately backed out of their end of the agreement and fought the reservoir at almost every step for the next two decades. That isn't even the most egregious thing they've done to prevent the restoration of America’s Everglades.
The consequences of the harm being done to these nationally vital coastal estuaries and the resulting impacts on the economic and human health of Floridians cannot be overstated. The situation is dire, we can't afford to wait to act. We've had the science, the money, and the plan. What we've lacked is the Political Will.