Statement of Roman Gastesi
Water Resources Manager
Chairman Jeffords, Ranking Member Smith, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). I am particularly gratified to be testifying in the presence of Florida Senator Graham, whose diligence and passionate work on Everglades Restoration has helped make the CERP a reality. Miami-Dade County would also like to recognize the efforts of this Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in moving this historic restoration effort along. Thank you
My name is Roman Gastesi, and I am the Water Resources Manager for Miami-Dade County (County) and a member of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Working Group.
Miami-Dade County is strongly committed to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP); so committed, that Mayor Alex Penelas and County Manager Steve Shiver established the Office of Water Management to ensure the County’s active participation and dedication of resources to the Plan’s implementation.
The County recognizes that preserving the delicate balance between our environment, urban areas, and agriculture is critical to all of South Florida. The long-term success of the CERP relies on all interested parties working together within a comprehensive and inclusive process. The region consists of 16 counties, 150 municipalities, two Indian Tribes, a multitude of State and Federal agencies, public and private utilities, and agricultural and environmental interests. The County acknowledges the need to work together, coordinate efforts, and come to a reasonable compromise to ensure that this vitally important project becomes a reality.
Today, South Florida is home to 6.5 million people, and the population is expected to double by 2050. The region also receives more than 37 million tourists annually. The quality of life in South Florida and the region’s $200 billion economy depend on the health and vitality of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the entire South Florida ecosystem. It’s important to recognize that the coral reefs, estuaries, and shallow waters of areas like the Florida Keys, Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay, along with offshore waters, support populations of recreational and commercial fisheries that can only benefit from our efforts to work together on restoration. Likewise, our region’s wetland and upland areas provide us with invaluable benefits such as wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, drinking water supply, water filtration, and stormwater retention — all of which benefit our residents and visitors alike. Continued cooperation among interested parties in the restoration process will serve to enhance these benefits for all parties. Agriculture in Miami-Dade County is an important component of the regional economy and way of life. Working together with all stakeholders, the County will ensure that CERP will provide healthy water supplies for the natural system as well as urban and agricultural interests.
Our policy body, the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners, has consistently expressed its commitment to Everglades Restoration. For example, on November 20, 2001, the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners approved Resolution No. R-1311-01 recognizing that protecting and restoring the “valuable, unique, irreplaceable resource of the Everglades” is in the best interest of the County, and reaffirmed Miami-Dade County’s commitment to work in partnership with the Federal government, the State of Florida, and other public and private interests.
The County supports the fundamental concept of “adaptive management” which has been adopted for the implementation of this Plan as part of the effort to achieve a balance of benefits as restoration progresses. Finding the “balance” while implementing this Plan is the biggest challenge. Some of the restoration efforts, including increased canal and groundwater levels, have the potential to negatively impact flood protection. Conversely, some flood mitigation projects, including lowering canal and groundwater levels, have the potential to negatively impact the health of natural systems. Using the “adaptive management” approach will allow for continuous refinements as the CERP progresses.
We are encouraged by the progress made in recent years. For example:
• Teams of scientists and other technical experts are working together to establish the performance measures and monitoring systems that will make it possible to systematically track the progress of this Plan.
• The evolution of a transparent process that, on a project-by-project basis, strives to involve the public, in addition to the Federal, State, local and Tribal agency interests following CERP activities.
• The binding agreement between the Governor of Florida and the President of the United States regarding the implementation of the Everglades Restoration Plan that reads “the state shall ensure, by regulation or other appropriate means, that water made available by each project in the Plan shall not be permitted for consumptive use or otherwise made unavailable by the state until such time as sufficient reservations of water for the preservation of the natural system are made under state law”.
• The work of the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the South Florida Water Management District staff in providing early outlines and an initial draft of the Programmatic Regulations to ensure stakeholder participation and understanding of this critical step in the process. As the comment period for the proposed regulations draws to a close, the Corps continues to provide presentations on the subject at numerous meetings. While we continue to evaluate the proposed rule, the effort to address stakeholder concerns is obvious in the latest product.
• The decision to advance the initiation of the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project component to provide the Bay with early benefits.
• A comprehensive Project Delivery Team meeting held earlier this year that brought hundreds of CERP participants together to coordinate efforts and help expedite the Plan’s implementation.
• Three authorized Pilot Projects within Miami-Dade County, L-3 1 Seepage Management, Wastewater Reuse, and Inground Reservoir Technology, that continue to move forward in an effort to resolve major uncertainties and answer questions critical to the Plan’s success
• The formation of a new Project Delivery Team to explore the possibility of providing additional clean water to both Everglades National Park and Biscayne Bay.
Miami-Dade County will continue to do its part to protect and restore the South Florida ecosystem. Protection of the Everglades and Biscayne Bay has been County policy for almost a generation, beginning with the 323 square mile East Everglades Moratorium Area Study in 1974, adoption of the Comprehensive Development Master Plan in 1975 and subsequent amendments, and development and implementation of the Biscayne Bay Management Plan in 1981. County interests in protecting the Everglades and wetlands from inappropriate urban development and associated need for drainage derive from the County’s long-term requirements for municipal water supply for the growing urban population, urban economic expansion, commercial and sport fisheries, tourism, agriculture, and prevention of public health and safety hazards.
Miami-Dade County has demonstrated leadership in protecting State and Federal interests in the Everglades and natural systems. Miami-Dade County is not approving zoning for suburban development in the Everglades or proposed Water Preserve Areas; has not programmed or constructed urban infrastructure or services for such areas and has resisted such proposals by others. In 1990, the citizens of Miami-Dade voted to tax themselves to provide funding for the acquisition and management of environmentally endangered lands. Since that time, and in partnership with the State of Florida and non-government agencies, more than 10,000 acres of wetlands and forest have been protected through acquisition. Miami-Dade County is also a leader in promoting infill and revitalization of currently developed urban areas, and in protecting ground and surface water quality through environmental monitoring, regulation and educational programs.
In addition, Miami-Dade County is currently embarking on a landmark watershed plan that will utilize innovative land use tools in the final undeveloped frontier of South Miami-Dade County to ensure successful implementation of water management operations and capital improvements to be carried out through CERP.
In conclusion, although some critics may focus on uncertainties and delays, we do not believe these are reasons to abandon our commitment to preserving and restoring this national treasure. We must not succumb to the will of the naysayers; nobody said it was going to be easy. Instead of dwelling on problems, we must maintain patience and courage to work through the challenges and come up with solutions. The consequences of not moving forward are great. We simply must continue to work together and move forward. The health of the natural system is directly linked to the health of the people and economy of Florida and the nation.