In 1996, the Working Group made progress on all fronts -- science, infrastructure, management, public information, and education. With a membership expanded to include state and tribal representation, the focus of the Group shifted toward issue resolution and increasing its emphasis on the urban and agricultural components. Much progress has been made in developing global strategies for multi-species recovery, water quality, exotic control, and wetland permitting. Completing and integrating these strategies will be priority goals in 1997. Not only are projects being planned, but some major ones are now underway. The effective intergration of science into all activities continues to be a major goal; significant gains have been realized.
Foremost, three major restoration projects are underway, and ground will be broken on a 4th in early 1997. Certainly there is much study and planning to be accomplished prior to beginning this preponderance of restoration work, but the Kissimmee, C-111, and Modified Water Deliveries projects have commenced; the latter two in 1996. The Everglades Construction Project will be initiated in February 1997. Not only will the work pay significant environmental dividends, but it sends a clear, positive message....restoration is more than talk.
The Farm Bill and the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 were watersheds. Not only did the latter provide for accelerated authorization of restoration projects, a role for the Federal government in water quality, and 50/50 cost sharing, it mandated that the Comprehensive Plan would be completed by 1 July 1999 and legislated the existence of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Taskforce. The 1996 Farm Bill afforded the Working Group an unprecedented opportunity to steer restoration. The Secretary of the Interior asked the Group to recommend priorities for the expenditure of more than $200 million provided by the Bill for South Florida ecosystem restoration. Consensus was reached among the Group and all stakeholders, an amazing feat that bodes well for the future...unity of effort can be achieved.
In 1996, efforts were stepped up to involve the public. It is critical that the public understand the need for restoration. Environmental degradation is subtle ...not nearly as poignant as increased crime, poor education, loss of jobs, etc. To maintain momentum that has been established...to ensure support for the plans being developed...the public must understand the importance of ecosystem restoration.
Having an understanding of and dealing with the interface among the urban, agricultural, and natural components of the system are essential to success. The issues surrounding the Water Preserve Areas, Homestead Air Force Base reversion, and the Lake Belt Plan have made this point crystal clear. Ecosystem restoration cannot be effectively accomplished without integration of all the components of the ecosystem. The integrastino of both the agricultural and urban communities into every aspect of restoration has begun... no component can be dealt with in isolation if we are to be successful.
Restoration will never be successful unless we are able to effectively cope with the development pressures. At some point in time, it will be impossible to add more people without damaging the environment or ensuring that the effects are adequately mitigated. In this vein, the Working Group has endorsed the Carrying Capacity Study that the Corps is helping to design for the Keys. It presents quite a challenge but is seminal to the future of a sustainable South Florida...obiously, there is a limit to the number of people that can exist in a healthy environment.
The Cross-Cut Budget (CCB) has proven very useful as a mechanism to integrate the activities of the many organizations involved in restoration. In 1996, tge first Integrated Financial Plan (IFP) was completed. Now, via the CCB, the Group not only has a way to communicate how they are integrating resources, but the IFP also clearly portrays all future needs -- resourced and unresourced. During 1997, work in this area wll focus on developing a Restoration Plan ... the capstone of the planning process that will holistically integrate all activities necessary for ecosystem restoration and, ultimately, sustainability...ecosystem restoration will never be complete until sustainability is achieved.
1996 was a successful year for the Working Group. The Group took advantage of its expanded membership,' broadened its perspective, began focusing more on problem solving, demonstrated that it could create consensus on tough issues, and was bestowed with enabling legislation...probably the most important, many members took another major step in relinquishing organizational sovereignty in favor of mutual cooperation. Unequivocally, the Group is poised for a banner year in 1997 and total success in the long-run. Progress toward our goal is visible and exciting!
Colonel Terry L. Rice
Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.