Government Spending

Murky Water

Sink this Everglades plan

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The federal government's $7.8 billion comprehensive plan to "restore" Florida's Everglades—mostly to fix damage done by previous federal meddling in the area—is already showing signs of sinking into that mighty swamp.

The plan, the single most ambitious and expensive environmental project ever undertaken by the U.S. government, promises to simultaneously solve the Everglades' myriad problems with water flow and quality and lost or unbalanced plant and animal life. Most of these problems resulted from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project in the late 1940s that essentially drained much of the marsh in an attempt to prevent flooding, irrigate farmland, and provide drinking water to facilitate new development.

Approximately 1.7 billion gallons of water drain from the Everglades to coastal waters each day. The feds hope to capture most of this water and store it in surface and underground storage areas so water flow can be controlled and directed.

But an August report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) sheds light on the enormous scientific uncertainty surrounding the plan. The report traces the plan's potential effects on the Florida Bay, the shallow, 850-square-mile body of water at the state's southern tip where the increased water flow produced by the restoration project will discharge.

The bay's old turtle grass beds began dying off in the late 1980s for reasons that scientists are still debating. The NAS report says it is unlikely that the federal plan will restore those grass beds or improve water clarity. In fact, it expresses concern that the new water flow might further endanger the remaining sea grass by increasing algae blooms. The NAS concludes that "the consequences of the [federal restoration] may be a Florida Bay that differs markedly from the 'gin clear' bay of the 1960s and 1970s."