The State Party continues to implement the Modified Water Deliveries Project, the C-111 Project, and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) adopted in 2000. CERP is the world’s largest environmental restoration project and aims to re-establish natural water flows to the greater Everglades ecosystem. It will take the next 30-40 years to implement and has a currently estimated cost of USD 10.5 billion. This number does not include a separate USD 1.1 billion cleanup of pollution in the Everglades.
On 3 February 2006, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN received from the State Party an updated report on the progress made in the restoration and conservation of the Everglades National Park, as well as a proposed set of steps and benchmarks. Key elements in the State Party report include:
Urban encroachment on the eastern boundary of the Park has been confined within the current urban development boundary lines. But urban planners anticipate 30,000 new residents in south Miami-Dade County each year, reaching 0.6 million in 2025 and 1.2 million in 2050. The Park has continued to work with urban planners to ensure that the County’s urban development boundary is not be expanded until 1) the report of the South Miami-Dade Watershed Study is completed, and 2) more is known about the requirements of key ecosystem restoration projects.
The State Party reports that federal appropriations have been increased significantly from 2005 to 2006, now totalling USD 221 million for key ecosystem restoration projects for the Everglades, including USD 60 million for the Modified Water Deliveries (Mod/Water) project. In 2005-2006, some minor components of the Mod/Water project have been completed, and they have improved water management for the conservation of Cape Sable seaside sparrow and increased water flows to the Park. However, major components of the project, such as the 8.5 Square Mile Area and Tamiami Trail projects, are yet to be implemented. All necessary land acquisitions have been identified and the planned land acquisitions are substantially complete and are expected to be fully completed by 31 December 2006. The C-111 project, addressing hydrological restoration needs along the eastern boundary of the Park, includes the construction of water retention areas (1,054 acres) within the Park. To achieve the goal of no net loss of territory to the Park, a land exchange with Miami-Dade County has been completed.
The State Party reports considerable efforts continue to lower the phosphorous limits in water that enters the Park from agricultural and urban areas. For the Taylor Slough/Coastal Basin areas, the long-term limit has been met for the past water year. For Shark River Slough, the interim limit has been met, but the long-term limits are yet to be met. It is hoped, however, that ongoing activities and construction and operation of additional facilities on the north end of the ecosystem will result in achieving the long-term limit by 30 September 2008.
The projects mentioned above are expected to be effective in restoring and maintaining the ecological balance of Florida Bay. Meanwhile, the Park’s current general management planning process is addressing concerns about numbers and impacts of boaters in Florida Bay. The Park has increased its educational, monitoring and law enforcement efforts concerning the boaters, which also appears to benefit the manatee population.
The Cape Sable seaside sparrow population was estimated at 3,104 birds in the 2005 breeding season (3,584 in 2004; 3,216 in 2003, and 2,704 in 2002). Heavy rains in March and April are thought to be the reason for a 41% drop in wading bird nesting populations from 2004 to 2005. Of special concern was the wood stork population. The total manatee population in south Florida was estimated at 3,142 animals (2,520 in 2004), but these estimates might not be reliable indicators for real population dynamics.
Following initial consultations and the April mission with IUCN, the State Party proposes the following benchmarks, linked to four steps described in detail in the State Party report, to improve the quantity, quality, distribution, and timing of water entering the Everglades National Park:
Benchmark 1: Modified Water Deliveries Project
1.1) All East Everglades Land Acquisition complete (approximately 44,000 hectares)
1.2) Complete Water Control Plan (CSOP Final EIS) and complete 8.5 Square Mile Area Construction
1.3) Construction projects for the L-67A and C and L-29 water conveyance structures, Tamiami Trail Bridges, and road modifications are all underway
Benchmark 2: C-111 Project
2.1) Complete C-111 land exchange between the South Florida Water Management District and the US Government
2.2) Complete the Water Control Plan (CSOP Final EIS)
2.3) Complete the construction of the C-111 Detention Area features from the 8.5 Square Mile Area to Frog Pond
Benchmark 3: Agriculture and urban runoff phosphorous limits
3.1) Meet or exceed the interim and long-term phosphorous reduction limits for water flowing into Shark River Slough and the long-term phosphorous reduction limits for water flowing into the Taylor Slough/Coastal Basin areas in Everglades National Park.
Benchmark 4: Protection and management of Florida Bay
4.1) Complete the construction of the C-111 Detention Area features from the 8.5 Square Mile Area to Frog Pond and implement CSOP operations
4.2) Complete the C-111N Spreader Canal and revised operations
IUCN notes that these benchmarks are ecologically based and are elaborated in a detailed report (May 2006) from the State Party. IUCN believes these benchmarks will allow the Committee to clearly assess improvements in the ecological status and trends of recovery of the World Heritage property.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the State Party report shows continued, considerable efforts and investments in restoring and conserving the World Heritage property.
Various sources have emphasised that restoration is progressing very slowly. Since the adoption of CERP in 2000, most time has been spent with developing rather than implementing projects, as may be expected with a 30-40 year plan. However, completion of the Modified Water Deliveries Project will provide infrastructure that will facilitate the implementation of the longer term CERP.
From 26 to 29 January 2006, the Everglades Coalition, an alliance of 45 conservation and environmental NGOs, reviewed restoration progress at its 21st annual conference. The Coalition commended the State Party for a number of steps taken, but stressed the critical importance of securing the land needed for restoration, which is threatened by urban development. Therefore, the Coalition called upon local and state governments to protect the urban development boundary in Miami-Dade County and to resist urban growth pressures in Southwest Florida. The Coalition also called upon Congress to maintain restoration momentum by authorizing in 2006 two priority restoration projects in the greater Everglades ecosystem: Indian River Lagoon-South and Picayune Strand, which will restore over 150,000 acres of wetlands.
Further recommendations of the Coalition for Everglades National Park correspond to the set of steps and benchmarks proposed by the State Party. Finally, the Coalition stresses that the long-anticipated Modified Water Deliveries and Kissimmee River projects will be completed by 2010, but only if fully funded over the next three years.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN remain concerned about 1) the quantity and quality of water entering the Park from the north and 2) the continued urban growth on the eastern boundary of the Park and a potential expansion of the urban development boundary. While the former issue is being addressed with great effort, and improvements are anticipated over time, both issues remain a serious challenge.
The State Party is strongly encouraged the to continue its considerable commitment to the full implementation of CERP and other important activities, to ensure that urban encroachment does not adversely impact the restoration of the Everglades Ecosystem or degrade Park resources, and to continue to provide the required financial resources for the restoration and conservation of Everglades National Park. Continued monitoring and reporting will help to link the increased efforts and provision of financial resources to anticipated ecological improvements.
IUCN met with the State Party at the property for 25-27 April 2006. As a result of that meeting and viewing the projects accomplished, underway and being planned, IUCN concurs with the State Party that the identified Benchmarks represent milestones in the overall restoration planning and approval process. They will result in significant on-the-ground improvements to the ecological and hydrological health of the Everglades. IUCN agrees that the achievement of these Benchmarks will not represent restoration of the ecosystem. However, the achievement of these Benchmarks does signal significant action and commitment on the part of the State Party and this achievement should be used as key indicators by the Committee in order to facilitate the removal of the Everglades from the List of World Heritage in Danger.