The State Party submitted a report on 30 January 2008, describing progress in implementing the corrective measures developed while the property was on the List of World Heritage List in Danger. These nine corrective measures, referred to as benchmarks by the State Party, addressed four threats: water flow and other aspects of hydrology, flood protection and water supply for urban and agricultural growth, nutrient pollution from agricultural activities, and protection and management of Florida Bay. These nine corrective measures and the progress reported against each of them are as follows:
- 1 A Complete all East Everglades Land Acquisition (approximately 44,000 hectares).
Only 1% of land acquisition is still needed, however, without this acquisition the much needed water depth increase will not be possible.
- 1B Complete Water Control Plan (CSOP Final Environmental Impact Study) and completion of 8.5 Square Mile Area Construction.
The State Party reports that the preliminary draft plan will ‘likely’ be replaced by a new revised water control plan to be assessed in a new Engineering Documentation Report and Environmental Impact Study (EIS) which is planned in 2009. The cause and justification for these delays and changes is unclear from the State Party report.
- 1C Construction projects for the L-67A & L-67C and L-29 water conveyance structures, Tamiami Trail Bridges, and road modifications.
Of particular concern are the delays and funding shortfalls, highlighted in media and NGO reports, relating to the Tamiami Trail component of the restoration plan. In its 2006 report, the State Party stated that the US Army Crops of Engineers was re-evaluating this component of the project to “maximize environmental benefits for the Park in a cost effective manner, consistent with future projects to be undertaken as part of the long-range Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.” However, the design and construction of the roadway improvements and water conveyance structures are on hold pending a re-evaluation report due in 2008. This delay in the completion of the WCA 3 De-compartmentalization and Sheetflow Enhancement Project means that the benefits of major flow restoration for Shark Slough will not be achieved for many years.
Considering the above issues, the State Party acknowledged that the full extent of flow improvements will be deferred until implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (or another restoration funding strategy is adopted). The State Party also stated that the ecological benefits from the Modified Water Deliveries Project will be substantially less than originally planned because of limited Tamiami Trail roadway improvements and the very limited water depth/hydroperiod improvements which are expected.
- 2A Complete C-111 land exchange between the South Florida Water Management District and the US Government.
Only this one of the nine corrective measures set while the property was on the List of World Heritage in Danger has been fully implemented.
- 2B Complete Water Control Plan (CSOP Final EIS). The preliminary draft CSOP is being replaced by a new C-111 Project Engineering Documentation Report and EIS, which should be completed by 2009.
The preliminary draft Complete Water Control Plan is being replaced by a new C-111 Project Engineering Documentation Report and Environmental Impact Statement at least in part due to the unintended negative impact of introduced new exotic fish species (six new exotic fish species observed), elevated soil/plan phosphorus levels, and marsh vegetation changes.
- 2C Complete the construction of the C-111 detention area features from the 8.5 Square Mile Area to the Frog Pond.
The change in plan noted in 2B above has resulted in a delay also for 2C whose schedule for completion has been delayed from 2009 to 2012.
- 3A Meet or exceed long-term phosphorus reduction limits for water flowing into Shark Slough and the long-term phosphorus reduction limits for water flowing into the Taylor Slough/Coastal Basins in Everglades National Park.
Though phosphorus loads were within limits on a flow-weighted annual average for Shark Slough, phosphorus values equalled or exceeded these limits for 4 months, suggesting that additional work and long-term effort is required to ensure that phosphorus levels are being effectively controlled.
- 4A Complete the construction of the C-111 Detention Area features from the 8.5 Square Mile Area to the Frog Pond and implement CSOP operations.
- 4B Complete the C-111N Spreader Canal and revised operations.
4A and 4B aim to aid the protection and management of Florida Bay, however, due to the delays in the C-111 Detention Area, CSOP operations, the completion dates for the C-111N Spreader Canal and the second phase of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan have yet to be determined. The State Party reports that the Florida Bay ecosystem remains stressed from persistent, chronic hypersaline conditions and wide-spread algal blooms. These algal blooms recently contributed to mass sponge mortality in the south western part of Florida Bay.
In its report, the State Party also highlighted that certain early phase activities are not expected to have any benefits for the property including the WCA 3 DECOMP phase 1 and 2. Only with phase 3 in 2018 will there be increased flows into Northeast Shark Slough and Big Cypress National Park. The State Party reported that benefits of substantial new water to the property to reduce near shore embayment salinity during the dry season and associated expected increased diversity of submerged aquatic vegetation and increased fish biomass are not expected within ‘several decades.’
Population growth, urban development, and increasing water demands
The State Party also reported on the challenges from projected growth in Miami-Dade County. While the existing Urban Development Boundaries are projected to contain growth until 2015, adjustments to these boundaries have occurred and future growth will pose serious strains on the protection and integrity of the property. A new 20-year consumptive use permit for Miami-Dade County does limit the withdrawals from the Everglades and requires off-sets from alternative water sources but these will have to be carefully monitored and plans (after 20 years) are unclear. Storm water management continues to pose a problem for water quality.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are very concerned with the current failure to complete the implementation of eight of the nine benchmarks and notes the threat to the values of the property continue to be serious. The statements on the unintended negative consequences of 2B, and the information provided on algal blooms, sponge deaths, and delays to achieve expected ecological benefits from the restoration projects are an indication of the on going degradation of the values and integrity of the property. They reiterate IUCN’s views expressed to the World Heritage Committee in 2007, where IUCN noted that many threats still exist at this property and that IUCN considers the property is still in danger.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party continue to provide the World Heritage Committee detailed progress report on the implementation of the corrective measures; as well as information on key habitats and species listed in its 2006 statement of significance. This should include the status of freshwater marshes, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rocklands, mangrove forests, saltwater marshes, and seagrass ecosystems. The state of conservation report should also report on the attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property in relation to criterion (x), such as the status of populations of the 20 rare, endangered or threatened species including alligator, crocodile, Florida panther, snail kite and manatee, as well as the status of key bird species. Such information would allow improved consideration by the World Heritage Committee on the values for which the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List and the effectiveness and status of the corrective measures.
Finally, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that a number of expert opinions, based on climate models, points to serious risk from sea-level rise for the property. They encourage the State Party to carry out a vulnerability assessment and develop a risk reduction strategy so that the high levels of investment required by the State Party to restore the property are appropriate, given potential future environmental and social changes for maintaining the values of the property and its integrity.