Director of Policy
Audubon of Florida
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Water Resources Development Act
June 18, 2002
Mr. Chairman, Senator Smith, and members of the Committee, on behalf of Audubon of Florida, a strategic alliance of the National Audubon Society, Florida Audubon Society and 43 chapters and 40,000 members in the State of Florida, thank you for the opportunity to present our views regarding proposals for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2002. The purpose of our testimony is to recommend that consideration be given to the authorization of three urgent and crucial Everglades restoration projects and deauthorization of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Project, as well as much needed comprehensive reforms to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).
Audubon of Florida recognizes the Chairman Jeffords’ support for Everglades restoration, a cause of utmost importance to Florida. We also recognize the contribution of past Chairman and Ranking Minority Senator Bob Smith for his vision, courage and determination in championing the historic legislation designed to restore the Everglades and return the abundance of birds and wildlife to its world-renowned ecosystem. We also thank the other members of the committee and the staff for their role in the passage of the Restoring the Everglades, an American Legacy Act in WRDA 2000, and for their continued support for Everglades restoration. We especially thank Florida's senior senator, who has provided steadfast and effective leadership on the Everglades and other Florida issues.
The Everglades is a model for future Corps environmental restoration projects. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is an outstanding example of how a reformed Corps would repair damage from previous water resource projects, while functioning in a manner that is responsive, accountable, and fiscally responsible. Again, we thank the Committee for its long-standing support for Everglades restoration and urge your continued support for the restoration of America’s Everglades.
Audubon strongly urges the Committee to include in WRDA three critical Everglades restoration projects that are scheduled for authorization by Congress this year and contain more than half of the total land area of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). These projects will deliver enormous benefits to the Everglades natural system. Like other parts of the Everglades ecosystem, these projects are largely an attempt to repair previous damage by federal and state projects. The partnership between America and Florida on these three projects will contribute significant improvements to the Everglades and our nation’s natural resources.
The proposed 2002 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) must include authorization for the Water Preserve Areas (WPAs), the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and the Southern Golden Gates Estates (SGGE) Hydrologic Restoration Project in order to accomplish significant early restoration. The three projects also provide the earliest ecological and economic value for the investment that Florida’s and America’s taxpayers are making in this historic restoration effort.
The Indian River Lagoon Project will reverse the deterioration and restore a nationally significant and unique system connecting Lake Okeechobee to the most diverse estuary in North America. The project restores, protects and utilizes 92,900 acres of water storage and water quality treatment areas. Restoring, cleaning up and enhancing the area’s wetlands and waterways increases the extent of natural storage and limits the dumping of harmful stormwater into Lake Okeechobee, the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary. These water bodies will benefit enormously from land acquisition and improvements for stormwater retention and water storage and by changing the current project’s drainage patterns.
The Southern Golden Gates Estates Hydrologic Restoration Project will restore to its previous natural condition 113 square miles (72,320 acres) of Southwest Florida that was ditched and drained for a sprawling development. Efforts to restore this area’s unique ecology of cypress, wet prairie, pine, hardwood hammock and swamp have been underway for decades. The project is connected to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, the Belle Meade State Conservation and Recreation Lands Project Area, the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and will restore flows to the Ten Thousand Island Estuaries and Aquatic Preserve through sheetflow and flowways rerouting approximately 185,000 acre-feet of water currently discharged as point source to the Faka Union Bay. Immediate benefits for the booming adjacent urban area include water supply through aquifer recharge and the prevention of saltwater intrusion while maintaining current authorized levels of flood protection for developed areas. The State of Florida has already acquired more than 90% of the 60,000 acres needed for the project. The restoration benefits of this project are critically needed and too long overdue.
The Water Preserve Areas (WPAs) Project, (including the Bird Drive Recharge Area and the Southern Compartment of the Hillsboro Impoundment), an integral part of the Everglades restoration plan, is located within Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties east of the Everglades and west of existing development, creating a 13,600 acre buffer area (Recommended Plan of the Draft WPA Feasibility Study). The WPAs are designed to increase the spatial extent of wetlands acres, improve habitat in the Everglades Protection Area, enhance the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, as well as store water, and safeguard urban wellfields. WPAs provide a critical source of water storage for restoration by reducing undesirable losses from the natural system through seepage and providing a means of capturing stormwater runoff that was previously wasted to tide. Further, development continues to encroach on the remaining natural areas adjacent to the Everglades, which serve a critical role in the restoration of the Everglades by maintaining wetland spatial extent. The WPAs also provide a mechanism for increased aquifer recharge and surface water storage capacity to enhance regional water supplies for the lower east coast urban areas, thereby reducing demands on an already degraded natural system.
These three projects demonstrate large-scale ecosystem restoration, while maintaining or improving water supply and flood protection. The success of these projects hinges on timely authorization. These projects require intensive and significant acquisition of land under significant development pressure – delay could result in failure. If authorized in 2002, these projects will result in significant ecosystem restoration early in CERP implementation – the kind of early success that will be essential to maintaining the broad support CERP now enjoys from both the public and private sectors.
The Army Corps of Engineers, through its authorized projects, has contributed to the nation's prosperity, saved lives and improved living conditions for millions of Americans. Many of these projects have also had serious negative environmental consequences. In Florida alone, billions of dollars are being spent to correct damage from Corps projects.
It is time to reform the role and activities of the Army Corps of Engineers and strongly supports legislation such as S. 1987, S. 646, H.R. 1310 and H.R. 2353 to accomplish reforms. We specifically urge the passage of legislation with the following elements:
· New tests and rules for fiscal responsibility, public accountability and environmentally sustainable projects.
· Full mitigation of environmental damages incurred by project construction.
· Increased public participation and input at the outset of every proposed project.
· Deauthorization of those projects that are shown to be economically unjustified.
· New rules to prevent the Corps from basing any of a project’s benefits upon any economic value resulting from the destruction of wetlands.
· Requirements that the Corps to count the cost of destroying natural resources when calculating the economic costs and benefits of projects
· Independent peer review of large and controversial projects concurrent with the Corps’ current project planning process.
· Increased fiscal responsibility and public accountability of the Corp activities and projects.
In addition to the specific reforms noted above, Audubon of Florida supports deauthorization of the nine by 100 foot channel of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Project between the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near Apalachicola, Florida to Jim Woodruff dam near Chattahoochee, Florida as supported by the Governor and Cabinet of the State of Florida. The maintenance dredging of this section of the Apalachicola River, which is little used for commercial navigation, has had enormous negative environmental impacts. Remarkably, this river project accounts for 30% of the Inland Waterways operations and maintenance budget, although the project only amounts to 3% of all navigation in the Inland Waterways. Dredging of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Project is both environmentally and economically irresponsible. By ending the dredging of this waterway, the Apalachicola River may repair itself and once more become home to abundant fish and wildlife.
Congress should enact meaningful Corps reforms to help restore faith in an agency that has suffered a significant loss of credibility. However, Congress should also act to authorized the three aforementioned Everglades projects and deauthorize the harmful operation of the Apalachicola River. We ask Congress to direct the Corps to manage ecosystems in an environmentally sustainable manner and to provide equal consideration and resources to environmental restoration as to flood control and navigation. Audubon of Florida will continue to support efforts to reform the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and we look forward to working with you to ensure that the next WRDA contains comprehensive and much-needed reforms.
We greatly appreciate this opportunity to provide the Committee with our views for WRDA.