As commander of the Jacksonville District’s 780-member team of professionals, I want to share information about our efforts to restore the environment and to help our nation face the challenges posed by rising sea levels.
I am honored to lead a team working to restore America’s Everglades — an ecosystem unlike any other in the nation, or the world. Together, with the state of Florida, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other government agencies, we’re seeing positive momentum to “get the water right” in terms of quantity, quality, timing and distribution.
The federal-state partnership is the strength of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, an unparalleled ecosystem restoration effort. The Corps and Florida have each invested over $1 billion to date in this vital effort.
Restoration of this treasure will improve 2.4 million acres of south Florida’s ecosystem, including Everglades National Park. It will help reduce large discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries. It will improve water deliveries to Florida and Biscayne bays, reducing saltwater intrusion accelerated by sea level rise into aquifers. It will also enhance water supply.
We already see restoration benefits in stretches of the now meandering Kissimmee River north of Lake Okeechobee, as well as in restored sheetflow in the Picayune Strand area in the southwest corner of the Everglades system. Both the corps and the state are working to construct new reservoirs to capture water that would otherwise flow directly to tide via the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
We’re also planning for future restoration, with the ongoing Loxahatchee River Watershed Restoration Project study and with two new planning efforts that we’ll start this year for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed and Western Everglades projects.
The corps integrates the potential effects of sea level rise into our studies, which is an increasing threat to coastal communities and economic productivity. Miami-Dade County is one of nation's most densely populated coastal areas and is vulnerable to coastal flooding. The ocean has risen several inches since the Central and Southern Florida flood control system was designed in the 1950s.
Higher water is already causing loss of flow capacity throughout South Florida.
The Interagency Flood Risk Management Project Study will develop adaptive strategies to address coastal storm surge and reduce risk of flood damage associated with sea level rise in Miami-Dade County. The study will also develop a decision-making tool to help community officials prepare the region for pre-storm operations.
The corps is also developing the South Atlantic Regional Systems Management Strategy. This is a comprehensive assessment to address coastal storm and flood risks along the South Atlantic coastline now and into the future. Over 3 million people live in high-risk areas in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Property in this area is worth over $616 trillion. Pre-disaster planning can save communities about 75 percent of post-storm costs.
Public participation is a key element of reducing risk and increasing resiliency. We encourage public involvement and will maintain open dialogue as we move forward in our efforts to restore the Everglades and address sea level rise.
The stakes are high, but the Army Corps of Engineers, alongside state, federal and local partners, have the knowledge and capability to collaboratively engineer solutions that overcome challenges. On Earth Day and every day, we’re building strong for the future to support national security, energize our economy and increase resiliency.
Col. Jason Kirk is commander of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.