Florida Bay is known for its incredible natural beauty. Beautiful teal waters filled with fish, dotted with mangrove islands filled with birds.
For years canals and other structures have drained water away from the Everglades wetlands that flow into Florida Bay. As a result, not enough freshwater reaches the bay, leaving water too salty.
Much of the sea grass that serves as a nursery area for fish has died off, and the populations of wading birds and other wildlife that eat those fish have been dramatically reduced.
The good news is that taxpayers have invested in infrastructure that is helping reroute this water back to the natural areas where it belongs. Three restoration projects south of Tamiami Trail are nearly complete and will soon change the way water flows towards the Everglades.
The goal of these projects is to move more water towards Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough, rehydrating the parched wetlands of Everglades National Park, and improving conditions in Florida Bay.
The bad news is that as a result of outside pressure to use restoration projects for flood control rather than ecological benefits, the first two year-long test run of these projects could actually make conditions even worse for Florida Bay.
The government agencies in charge of restoration will meet on Tuesday to discuss this operational test that will begin this summer. More water will move into Shark River Slough — which will benefit the wetlands of the western half of Everglades National Park.
Unfortunately, less water may end up in Taylor Slough to the east, cutting off some of the water going to Florida Bay.
This test is the first in a series of three. Audubon believes remaining tests must prioritize bringing freshwater to the Southern Everglades.
If we get it wrong, fish and wading bird populations will continue to decline.
Taxpayers have invested a lot of money in Everglades restoration infrastructure.
This is because there are so many benefits — for people and for wildlife.
Restoration efforts will ensure protection of unique habitats, help recharge the Biscayne Aquifer, delay the impacts of sea level rise, and protect the commercial and recreational fishing industries in Florida Bay.
These benefits will not be realized if government agencies continue to bow to pressure to drain the water away from the Everglades. Restoration is about putting water in the right place for the right reasons.
Tabitha Cale, Everglades policy associate, Audubon Florida, Miami