Why is it Important to Restore the Everglades?
Restoring America's Everglades
Recognized worldwide as a unique and treasured landscape, the Everglades is a one-of-a-kind network of natural resources that makes up the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi River, and the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The Everglades ecosystem:
- has helped shape the natural heritage, culture, and economy of Florida and the Nation
- is a unique mosaic of sawgrass marshes, freshwater ponds, prairies and forested uplands that support rich plant and wildlife communities
- is renowned for its wading birds and wildlife
- is home to dozens of threatened or endangered species, such as the Florida panther, American crocodile, snail kite and wood stork.
Restoring Water Quality
Phosphorus in agricultural and stormwater runoff has degraded water quality in the Everglades since the 1960s. The natural plant and animal communities for which the Everglades are known developed under very low phosphorus conditions. High phosphorus causes impacts in the Everglades such as:
- loss of the natural communities of algae that are defining characteristics of the Everglades
- loss of water dissolved oxygen that fish need
- changes in the native plant communities that result in a loss of the open water areas where wading birds feed.
By 1990 over 40,000 acres of the public Everglades were estimated to be impacted. Better water quality will support tourism, recreation, and wildlife, and protect the Everglades for future generations. Extensive efforts were initiated in the 1990s to protect the Everglades from further degradation caused by phosphorus:
- farmers have implemented best management practices to reduce phosphorus before the water leaves the farm
- the State and Federal governments have constructed about 57,000 acres of treatment wetlands (called Stormwater Treatment Areas, or STAs) that remove phosphorus before the water is discharged into the Everglades. This $2 billion effort to treat large volumes of water down to the very low phosphorus level (10 parts per billion) that is needed to protect all of the Everglades is an unprecedented restoration effort.
- the STAs have permits required under the Clean Water Act that limit how much phosphorus can be discharged.