Ailing after a decade of broken deals, choking, invasive exotic plants, runoff from sugar and other farms, federal lawsuits, and even deadly pythons, the Everglades finally has a fighting chance to be restored to that fabled River of Grass that Marjory Stoneman Douglas sought to save more than 60 years ago.
In dispute for years: how to reduce nutrients from nearby farms and urban runoff that have poisoned the Everglades with heavy concentrations of phosphorous, changing the very character of the swampy river that Florida wildlife counts on to survive.
Under the Everglades Forever plan, Big Sugar has reduced the amount of phosphorus flowing south from Lake Okeechobee — the latest count by regional water managers was down 71 percent from 1994 levels. Despite that strong performance by farms using marshes to stem the flow into the river, the damage accumulated over decades has been hard to reverse. The water, though significantly cleaner, still does not meet the federal standard for a healthy Everglades.
That, too, seems to be resolved with U.S. District Judge Alan Gold’s order last week that clears the way for a historic $880 million cleanup plan agreed upon by state and federal governments. The Obama administration also announced an $80 million program to preserve 23,000 acres of farmland by buying up the development rights to ensure that ranchland in the Northern Everglades remains pristine in perpetuity — a key to saving the endangered Florida panther.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Editorial Board on Wednesday that he has been meeting with the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians to hear their concerns about road improvements to Tamiami Trail. It’s good to keep an open door, but unless the facts change it’s difficult to see, after years of studies, how else to protect animals in that corridor without an elevated roadway.
Mr. Salazar visited the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate these new efforts to clean up the Everglades — part listening tour and part stump speech for President Obama’s reelection. He told the board that Gov. Rick Scott’s support is crucial to ensuring a steady course for the clean-up, instead of more stalling. The governor says he’s committed. Good.
This is not a quick fix. The landmark cleanup will take a dozen years to complete. Not only is the Everglades and the lake the source of drinking water for millions in South Florida, its survival depends on removing the canals and dikes that have drained the natural water flow and cleaning up the pollution.
As it is, the clean-up target of 2025 comes two decades after the project was to be completed. South Florida’s future depends on keeping to the timetable. No more deadly delays.