Why should you care about the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan? What could a project happening in Florida have to do with you?
What Is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)?
First proposed to US Congress in 2000, this plan is supposed to “restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection.” Ideally the project would help to reverse what damage the initial draining from the 1800s did to the area and to help restore the area’s hydrology while restoring the natural habitat and protecting native species.
Why CERP Should Matter To You
Forget about the fact that it’s the largest hydraulic restoration project in US history, estimated to take 35 years to complete and to cost over $10 billion USD. Even if you aren’t one of the 8 million people who get their drinking water from the Everglades, if you aren’t one of the 1,500 people employed by Everglades tourism or even if you aren’t impacted by the +$150 million dollars that flow into the US economy from the Everglades every year. . . Even if none of this is true, you should still care.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan – also known as CERP – is a bigger indicator of the future of the construction industry and infrastructure development across the US, North America and potentially even the world.
Before we dive into this, however, we first need to understand what the Everglades are, what CERP is and what is happening with it.
What Are The Everglades?
The Florida Everglades is a natural area of subtropical wetland ecosystem that covers over 2 million acres in central and south Florida. For reference, it’s often said that the ecosystem is twice the size of New Jersey.
The History of the Florida Everglades
The Everglades used to flow from modern-day Disney, through the Kissimmee River Valley all the way down to the Florida Bay. Today, over 50% of that natural ecosystem is gone, converted to developed land. This conversion started in the 1800s. Much of the South Florida Everglades were drained, dammed, and diverted to create land for commercial, residential and agricultural use as well as to provide some flood control and to help protect the new buildings and houses from hurricanes.
The Value of the Everglades
The Everglades, as mentioned above, provides water, jobs, and money to those living in Florida and to the general Florida economy. The water is also used for irrigation for many of the state’s farms.
Image borrowed from Visit Florida.
In terms of wildlife, the everglades are home to over 360 species of birds, most of which aren’t found anywhere else on earth. It is also home to the endangered Florida Panther and West Indian Manatee. The Everglades are also home to the bottlenose dolphin and other more well-known animals such as crocodiles, alligators and over 27 different species of snake. Just to name a few.
The ecosystem of the Everglades is made up of a diverse collection of plants, trees, grasses, and flowers inducing cypress and mangrove trees. Together, the fauna and flora with the water and wildlife make a unique, beautiful and important ecosystem known as the Florida Everglades.
The Consequences of Draining the Everglades
If part of the Everglades were never drained, some of the Florida cities we know and love today wouldn’t exist. That being said, it didn’t come without consequences. They began to be seen shortly into the 1900s. Altering the natural flow of the Everglades has resulted in the loss of animal populations, lower quality of water and invasive species which threatened the Everglades.
The Everglades is what makes Florida and the surrounding states what they are. As the consequences grew worse and worse, more people began to realize that the only way for the economies and developed areas surrounding the Everglades to stay prosperous was to revitalize and protect whatever part of the ecosystem survived.
Protecting the Everglades
This push to protect the everglades began in the 1980s as people began to search for a way to find a balance between the needs of people and nature. A South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was established by Congress in 1996.
This Task Force put together three goals to protect the Everglades. The first was to protect and address the water issues in the Everglades. The second was to focus on the habitats and species living in the area. Last but not least was to build the environment up to a more sustainable baseline.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan came out of this Tasks Force and these three goals.
The Main Goal of the CERP: Water
Everything about this plan revolves around water. The main goal and focus of the plan is to restore the flow of water that happens in the Everglades back to how it was originally. The infrastructure needs to be updated to return the flow back to the same quality, quantity, timing and distribution that it would have been before humans ever drained a drop.
Image borrowed from NPS.
This restoration is believed to be key in the rehabilitation of native species and to allow the Everglades to naturally achieve a sustainable future moving forward. After the project is completed, continued education about the importance of respecting the environment and it’s natural process will help to make sure this kind of project doesn’t need to happen in the area again.
Construction and Infrastructure Development in the Florida Everglades
There were many construction projects that came out of this plan. In 2016, 16 years after the initial proposal, the Legacy Florida Bill was passed by the Florida Legislature to deliver about $200 million every year for the next 10 years towards restoration projects.
From building water basins and improving water retention in lakes to raising trails and roads, there has been no shortage of construction projects related to the restoration.
The Tamiami Trail in the Florida Everglades. Image borrowed from NPS.
The raising of the Tamiami Trail – 6.5 miles of highway between Miami-Dade and Florida’s West Coast – is just one of these projects. Advertising for a design-build team to work directly with the Department of Transportation, the project will be opening up to bids from qualified contractors this year.
With billions of dollars of funding and years of work ahead, this specific project is just one of many that will allow contractors to partake in this monumental rehabilitation project.
The Future of Infrastructure Builds
It’s been known for years that the US infrastructure needs to be invested in. With an infrastructure report grade of D+, some estimates say that the US needs to invest $4.5 trillion by 2025 to repair the nation’s roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, public drinking and water systems, airports and more.
As we become more aware of the impact that building and shaping our world has on the environment, many of these infrastructure projects may take note of the Everglades Rehabilitation project and could try to restore the natural ecosystems that once existed.
While many other countries may not have the same level of infrastructure, there is the possibility here for a new niche in construction – eco-rehabilitation.
A New Niche for Construction?
Sustainable and green construction practices are rising and now could be the best time to embrace the green changes in the industry (link to Kevin’s LinkedIn article). Could rebuilding and reestablishing the natural flow of our land become more common for project bids? Is this another way that contractors who embrace green construction practices and eco-friendly building habits stand out and win bids above those who don’t?
Only time will tell.
What is clear, however, is that the long-lasting impact, effect and consequences of humans messing with nature is being noticed. Construction plays a huge role in engineering and building solutions to help restore these ecosystems back to what they used to be. The future of people depends on it. The Florida Everglades is a clear example of what could happen if we don’t.
At the end of the day, construction comes out of the projects that we need as a society. Whether or not eco-rehabilitation projects boom in the future, it’s clear that there is a future for it in Florida.