Plan to overhaul management of Florida’s water resources

Profound changes to the management of water resources in central and southern Florida have been proposed. They include increasing water supply to the Everglades National Park, reducing freshwater loss to oceans and improvements in water quality to a region totalling 18,000 square miles.

A comprehensive plan to overhaul the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project was presented to the US Congress on 1 July. The C&SF Project has been in operation since 1948. It was created to provide flood control, water control, water supply, and other water services to the area that stretches from Orlando to Florida Bay.

A project “restudy” was authorised by Congress in 1992, after it was acknowledged that “the project has contributed to the decline of the south Florida ecosystem”. Alterations to the C&SF Project are estimated to cost $7.8 billion.

In addition to concerns surrounding the future of the Everglades National Park, pressure from housing development and agriculture on water quality, supply and control are the motivating factors behind the project reassessment.

According to South Florida Water Management District, water supply shortages will be severe and unacceptable to the public by 2010 if no further action is taken. Saline intrusion of surficial aquifers and increasing risks from flooding are also a worry. According to the Comprehensive Plan presented to Congress, “the existing investment in flood protection infrastructure was never intended to totally eliminate flooding in developed areas and flooding does occur periodically. In addition, natural areas have also suffered damage as a result of operating the flood control system to benefit the developed areas”.

The C&FS Project Restudy contains measures to create Water Preserve Areas that will protect the Florida Everglades. Acting as buffers between the Everglades and the lower east coast of Florida, the areas will prevent over-drainage and will re-stablish natural hydro-patterns and flood storage. The presence of Water Preserve Areas is also expected to improve water supply to Florida’s east coast.

The C&FS Restudy forms part of a larger scheme to protect Florida’s environment. The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force is charged with developing a range of projects to achieve environmental sustainability in the region.

In addition to the proposed changes to the C&FS Project, there are plans to implement the Everglades Construction Project. Its aims are to improve the quality of agricultural and urban stormwater runoff into the Everglades, re-establish sheetflow, increase the quantity of water coming into the Everglades and decrease the amount of freshwater entering coastal estuaries.

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