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REVIVING THE EVERGLADES



Published: Wed, July 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: Will the massive $8 billion program for re-plumbing the Everglades actually succeed in reviving the unique wetlands ecosystem that was decimated by years of federal reclamation and flood-control projects? A broad-ranging look at the project by The Washington Post's Michael Grunwald raised that question recently and underscored the need for strong and continuing oversight as the ambitious restoration effort moves forward.

Danger looms in two directions. One is that engineers can't say for sure that the technological fixes on which the plan depends will work as hoped. If the scientists and engineers can't "get the water right," as local officials say, the ecosystem's hoped-for recovery won't materialize. The other is that, with benefits for industry and development materializing faster than benefits for the environment, Congress will run out of patience, and federal support for the project will dry up before its goals are reached.

Quarrying project

The reasons for worry show up starkly in the "Lake Belt," a quarrying project at the Everglades' edge that is eating away 21,000 acres of wetlands even though it's not at all guaranteed its promised future water storage benefits will materialize. There are also signs of hope, such as the Indian River Lagoon Project, where Army Corps of Engineers officials responded to local activists and changed a project design to meet environmental needs.

The restoration project, funded half by the federal government and half by the state of Florida, was designed to serve a wide range of interests, including water supply and flood control for booming South Florida: The strains inherent in encompassing them all are clear.

The federal interest in the project is in reviving the unique wetlands ecology and protecting it from future harm. Congress must keep pushing to uphold that mission. A House subcommittee took a step in that direction by voting to boost the Interior Department's role in the restoration effort. President Bush, who has pledged to be a good steward of the Everglades, has a role as well. His administration is developing the regulations that will guide the re-plumbing project; draft rules are now under review in the Office of Management and Budget.

To meet his commitment, those rules must be strong and specific enough to protect the restoration goals. The damage done by years of effort to drain the Everglades can never be fully undone, but the federal government took on the right mission when it set out to restore what can be healed. Now the challenge is to keep it on course.




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