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Everglades restoration must be completed

 

With all the recent stories about new projects and bridges to move more water into Everglades National Park, we should all feel good about the fruits of our collective resolve to protect and restore the environment. What we haven’t read about are the shortcomings of these same projects to deliver on the other promise that goes along with restoring the Everglades, which is to protect the private property, local economy and the way of life in the areas affected by these projects in south Miami-Dade County.

This winter, farmers across South Miami-Dade have lost crops, or been unable to plant, due to an unusually high water table. A significant contributing factor is that Everglades restoration projects have languished for years in a partially completed state. The “interim operations” for those projects have not only achieved little of the restoration benefit that justified them, but have also failed to protect local farmers.

For almost a century, the hallmark of South Miami-Dade has been its agricultural economy and landscape. The community of small farmers has been an important producer of winter vegetables, tropical fruit, and other crops. Many of Miami’s best restaurants serve locally-grown organic fruit and vegetables as part of the “farm to table” movement. Farmers need reliable flood protection every year because when the water table nears the ground surface, roots rot and plants die. We have lost thousands of avocado trees just in the last few years to diseases brought on by high water.

Everglades restoration projects were designed to avoid this problem. Everglades National Park needs water, and when water leaks out of the park into South Miami-Dade, as it now does every day, it makes the Everglades too dry and the agricultural area too wet. Two projects were designed to address both of these problems. The C-111 Project has been mostly built, and is capable of raising the water level in the park and improving conditions in the agricultural areas east of Everglades National Park. Similarly, the Modified Water Deliveries Project features are fully functional, yet there is no approved operating plan that would let the water flow. However, water managers have failed to implement the Modified Water Deliveries Project as designed, and have used its features to send water from the Water Conservation Areas into the South Miami-Dade canals, rather than let that water flow into Everglades National Park as intended.

Everglades restoration can be, and must be, a win-win for both the environment and South Miami-Dade farmers, but so far it feels more like a lose-lose. It is time for federal and state water management agencies to start harvesting the environmental benefits of the billion dollars spent on these two projects and at the same time delivering on the promise of better water control for the agricultural economy of South Miami-Dade.

Rep. Katie Edwards, Plantation

Rep. Holly Raschein, Key Largo

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