One of the major challenges faced in implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in urban regions has been resolving issues around land acquisition and development. The Greater Everglades ecosystem encompasses some large urban areas like West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Restoring natural water flows and hydrology according to CERP requires certain lands currently occupied by urban development to be converted back to more natural wetland habitats. Acquiring private lands in dense urban centers through purchase or eminent domain and relocating existing developments has faced significant political and legal hurdles over the years.
Local governments and residents in these areas have resisted large-scale land transfers, as it would displace communities and require billions in taxpayer money for relocation. Coming to agreements on fair compensation and addressing property rights issues has prolonged the project timelines. Managing public perception of losing livable areas to wetland restoration has also been difficult. Inter-governmental coordination between multiple municipalities, counties, state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers implementing CERP has added another layer of complexity to land acquisition negotiations in urban corridors.
Another major challenge has been balancing ongoing urban and agricultural water needs with environmental restoration as mandated by CERP. South Florida’s population continues growing rapidly and so does its demand for freshwater resources. At the same time, CERP goals involve restoring more natural hydropatterns and freshwater flows towards the Everglades and coastal estuaries by reducing water diversions. reconciling these competing demands within a regulated framework has not been easy. Allocating limited water reserves between various users and implementing new diversions or storage projects without compromising ongoing needs of cities or agriculture requires careful modeling and planning.
Pollution from urban and agricultural runoff into restored areas is a significant concern as well. Legacy nutrients and other contaminants from decades of altered flows and land use threaten to hamper recovery of natural systems even after hydrology is improved per CERP designs. Treating diffuse non-point source pollution at large regional scales poses major technical challenges. New monitoring networks and best management practices need widespread deployment and cooperation from various stakeholders to sufficiently curb pollutants as restoration progresses over several decades. Conflicts over polluters sharing clean-up costs add an implementation hurdle.
Coastal estuaries which are ecosystems affected by CERP also present restoration difficulties. Estuaries are dynamic systems influenced by both freshwater inflows from inland regions and tidal flows/salinities from the coastal ocean. Mimicking natural variability in salinity regimes required for diverse estuarine habitats is challenging when water management has modified freshwater delivery patterns for long periods of time. Achieving optimal flow volumes, timing, distribution and water quality parameters across different coastal estuaries under a single large-scale restoration plan like CERP involves complex system-wide modeling and adaptive management.
Coastal development has encroached over historically connected wetland areas in many places, disrupting landscape connectivity necessary for estuarine functional recovery. Like in urban zones, coastal land acquisition also faces local socio-economic and political barriers. Sea level rise projected to accelerate due to climate change in coming decades adds greater uncertainties for coastal hydrologic restoration targets set by CERP. Flexibly adapting project timelines, designs and performance metrics to rising seas presents further complications for successful long-term implementation.
Resolving issues around existing urbanization and development patterns, balancing human and environmental water needs, establishing extensive pollution control programs and measures, achieving multifaceted estuarine recovery while dealing with coastal uncertainties like sea level rise – presents interlinked socio-economic and technical challenges to fully implementing CERP goals over many decades in the heavily modified South Florida landscape and coastal zone. Adopting collaborative adaptive management approaches involving all stakeholders continues to be necessary to overcome barriers and make comprehensive Everglades restoration a reality.