SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
OVERSIGHT OF THE COMPREHENSIVE EVERGLADES RESTORATION PLAN, AS AUTHORIZED BY THE WATER RESOURCES AND DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2000
SEPTEMBER 13, 2002
The Seminole Tribe welcomes the opportunity to share our views on the progress towards implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) authorized by the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2000. For many years now, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been an active participant in the multi-faceted efforts to restore the South Florida Ecosystem. As such, we have seen the value of our participation to the Tribe in being able to educate policymakers about the Tribe’s concerns and needs. We have also found value in working with other stakeholders to formulate and refine policy positions and program options. We applaud the Committee for bringing together today a representative group of stakeholders to update you on the progress made toward achieving ecosystem restoration in South Florida. A program developed and implemented though consensus has an improved prospect for successful restoration of the natural system while maintaining stability in flood control and water supply for South Floridians.
Our leading comment to this Committee on the Restudy, and later on the proposed WRDA 2000 legislation, was that a balanced approach is critical to the success of the grand restoration effort of which CERP is a central component. Now back before you, we wish to reiterate that a balanced approach throughout the implementation of CERP remains critical.
This testimony briefly introduces the Seminole Tribe of Florida before discussing the reasons the Tribe is highly committed to Everglades restoration. Next, this testimony outlines the status of the Tribe’s Critical Restoration Project on the Big Cypress Reservation. The testimony also discusses the Tribe’s major issues related to CERP implementation, and more specifically, comments on the proposed Programmatic Regulations as proposed by the Corps of Engineers (Corps) in early August.
The Seminole Tribe lives in the South Florida ecosystem. The Tribe relies on all aspects of a healthy ecosystem, including the Everglades, which provide many of our tribal members with their livelihood. Our traditional Seminole cultural, religious, and recreational activities, as well as commercial endeavors, are dependent on a healthy South Florida ecosystem. In fact, the Tribe’s identity is so closely linked to the land that Tribal members believe that if the land dies, so will the Tribe.
During the Seminole Wars of the 19th Century, the Tribe found protection in the hostile Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp. But for this harsh environment filled with sawgrass and alligators, the Seminole Tribe of Florida would not exist today. Once in the Everglades and Big Cypress, tribal members learned how to use the natural system for support without doing harm to the environment that sustained them. For example, the Seminole native dwelling, the chickee, is made of cypress logs and palmetto fronds. It protects its inhabitants from sun and rain, while allowing maximum circulation for cooling. When a chickee has outlived its useful life, the cypress and palmetto return to the earth to nourish the soil.
In response to social challenges within the Tribe, tribal leaders looked to the tribal elders for guidance. Our elders taught us to look to the land, for when the land was ill, the Tribe would soon be ill as well. When we looked at the land, we saw the Everglades and supporting ecosystem in decline. We recognized that we had to help mitigate the impacts of man on this natural system. At the same time, we acknowledged that this land must sustain our people, and thereby our culture. The clear message we heard from our elders and the land was that we must design a way of life to preserve the land and the Tribe. Tribal members must be able to work and sustain themselves. We need to protect our tribal farmers and ranchers. Any plan to address restoration needed to address that balance.
Why Everglades Restoration? Why CERP?
At the Critical Project groundbreaking ceremony on the Big Cypress Reservation this past January, Tribal leadership expressed their concerns about the current condition of the land and water on the reservations, especially as compared to what they recalled from childhood. They spoke of the cypress and sawgrass, rains and fires, and wide-open skies. They also spoke of the hardships caused by the flooding and unreliable water supply. While acknowledging the trade-offs, they cautioned against losing anymore of their environmental culture and applauded restoration activities. Their observations echoed those of the children of the Ahfachkee School who shared their growing awareness of their unique cultural values including a healthy Big Cypress Reservation ecosystem.
Moses Jumper, Jr., resident poet of the Big Cypress Reservation, shared his poetic insights into the unique imagery and values of the Everglades throughout the groundbreaking ceremony. The following illustrates Mr. Jumper’s keen observations and heartfelt concerns about the declining health of the ecosystem.
River of Peace
By Moses Jumper, Jr.
In my early years as a young boy,
I climbed the willow trees that covered
The river’s edge.
I would watch the squirrels play in the
Mighty oaks and I would laugh as they
Dropped acorns into the gentle river below.
King Fisher, O-pa, snake bird and hawk,
They would all sit high in the cypress
Tree as they peered down ready to scoop up
An unsuspecting meal.
The river gently flowed, going nowhere,
Yet, bringing life to the glades. The
River was peaceful and so was I…
It was a good time to be alive…
Then one day they came. They surveyed
The land and said “This river goes no
Where and is useless.” We will dig a
Larger canal and will let it run to the sea.
The oaks went down as did the cypress and
Soon the land became dry and parched.
O-pa was gone as well as King fisher,
Snake bird and hawk…
I cried, for what the giver of breath
Had given, we destroyed and I knew they would
Be no more…
Without CERP, as modified through the adaptive management process over the years, the Tribe believes that the ecosystem will not be able to support either the natural system or the built system, the heading the urban, suburban, and agricultural areas are now collected under. The Tribe views the natural and built systems as intricately linked. As CERP projects are built and become operational, the pressure from the built system on the natural system will be reduced. But without CERP, the willow and oaks and King Fisher and O-pa (the Creek word for “owl”) are unlikely to come back.
Recognizing the needs of our land and our people, the Tribe has developed a Water Conservation Plan to mitigate the harm to the land and water systems within our Reservations while ensuring a sustainable future for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Big Cypress Reservation is the first of our Reservations for which such a plan has been implemented. The Tribe is in the early stages of developing a plan with similar goals on the Brighton Reservation.
On Big Cypress, this restoration plan will allow Tribal members to continue ongoing farming and ranching activities while improving water quality and restoring a natural hydroperiod to large portions of the native lands on the Reservation and ultimately, positively affecting flora and fauna of the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. Portions of the WCP, including a conveyance canal that will bring water from the east side of the Reservation to the water quality and supply components on the western side of the Reservation have been identified as a “Critical Project” under section 528 of WRDA ‘96. As you are aware, Critical Restoration Projects are projects that were determined to provide independent, immediate, and substantial restoration, preservation, and protection benefits to the South Florida Ecosystem. In addition, the Tribe is working closely with the National Resource Conservation Service to identify appropriate programs to complete construction of the water quality and supply components on the eastern side of the Reservation. The Tribe in conjunction with the NRCS has also completed a project to restore wetlands on the Reservation under the Wetland Reserve Program, and another such project is currently underway.
The Big Cypress Critical Restoration Project is in the construction phase and is moving forward smoothly at this time. The goals of this project include improved water quality and hydrology in a natural area on the Reservation known as the Native Area, and improve water quality and hydrology in the Big Cypress National Preserve as water flows off the Reservation. The Project will also offer enhanced water storage and flood control for the Reservation. The first phase of the project, the East Conveyance Canal has two purposes: first, it is the backbone of the water storage and treatment elements in the four western basins of the Reservation; and, second, it will convey water the Tribe has been entitled to receive from the South Florida Water Management District as a result of the Tribe’s transfer of the land and water rights to a part of the historic Big Cypress state reservation to the State of Florida to be managed for Everglades restoration. [See the Seminole Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987.] This first phase is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
The second phase of the project, construction of water treatment and storage areas on the western side of the Reservation, is currently in the design and planning phase. Phase 2 construction is anticipated to begin in August2003 and be completed in 2006.
The Big Cypress Critical Restoration Project is a large and complicated project to which the Tribe has made a substantial and long-termed financial and cultural commitment. This project is the only CERP- related project scheduled to be constructed in the Big Cypress Basin until 2015. This project will reconnect historic sheetflow of good quality water to stunning old-growth cypress swamps on the Reservation and into the Big Cypress National Preserve. The restoration benefits, balanced with addressing the related water needs of the Tribe on the Big Cypress Reservation, clearly justify the joint investment by the Tribe and the federal government.
As indicated previously, the Tribe’s over-riding principle applied to our analysis of the development of CERP applies to the implementation of CERP as well – and that is balance. Lack of balance is the cause of the problems CERP is directed to correct. The environmental crisis in South Florida was brought about by the Central & Southern Florida (C&SF) Project so efficiently achieving its congressionally mandated goals of providing flood protection and water supply to the farms and families of Florida, without fully appreciating the resulting impacts on the natural system. As the damage to the natural environment became evident, all entities began to recognize the interdependence of the natural system and the “built” environment. CERP acknowledges that while restoration of the environment is paramount, the other related water needs of the region, as addressed by the C&SF Project, must be provided for as well. The Tribe supports CERP implementation providing protection to the natural systems, the people, and the agricultural communities that share the South Florida Ecosystem.
The success of CERP authorization and implementation to date results from the emphasis on obtaining input from a wide array of stakeholders and recognizing the importance of addressing natural and human water needs in a balanced way. Keeping all stakeholders committed to CERP will require careful project sequencing to guarantee that the benefits of the projects are equitably distributed over time and space, while ensure that measurable benefits are produced in a reasonable period of time.
Careful scientific analysis completed through adaptive assessment will need to support well-informed policy decisions to accomplish productive adaptive management – all of which requires active participation by a broad cross-section of stakeholders. Modeling efforts, as the basis for both prospective planning and retrospective monitoring and analysis, must reflect that all components of the ecosystem- the natural system and the built environment- are interdependent.
The pace of both federal and state funding (along with the Tribe’s funding of the Big Cypress critical project), the execution of the historic President-Governor agreement guaranteeing benefits to the natural system, and the proposed Programmatic Regulations all indicate good progress toward the end goals of CERP.
The Tribe notes the Corps’ exemplary outreach efforts applied to the development of the proposed rule on the Programmatic Regulations (Regulations). The Corps, along with the Task Force and the Department of Interior, worked hard to ensure that the Tribe had ample notice and opportunity to review, discuss, and comment on the Regulations. Many of the Tribe’s concerns expressed regarding the December 2001 draft were addressed by the Corps’ proposed rule. While the Tribe will provide formal comment on the current draft of the proposed rule, our comments on the Regulation are positive overall.
The Tribe believes that it is critically important to clearly define policy verses technical decisions, and to clearly assign responsibility and accountability for each. It is crucial that the policy-level consensus building be conducted in public with input from the public. For example, the project management team, with the assistance of RECOVER, will formulate project alternatives prior to the selection of the alternative to undergo the analysis necessary to complete a Project Implementation Report (PIR). The tribe believes that selecting the final alternative is a policy level decision; therefore, the Tribe recommends that the Task Force review the alternatives and make an alternative recommendation to the project’s managers. The policy-level consensus building conducted in public with input from the public is crucial for 2 purposes – namely, building support for the selected alternative, and flushing out serious problems prior to heavy investment in developing the documentation necessary for a PIR. Another example is in the operation and application of the recommendations of RECOVER. The roles of the leadership team and the individual research groups need to be clearly delineated.
The Tribe further believes that the Programmatic Regulations must address the issue of source switching as mandated by WRDA 2000. This requirement is unique to CERP and there is no historic counterpart in Florida law to guide how this process will occur. As a result, this issue has the potential to become a roadblock to CERP implementation without clear guiding principles for developing how and when source switching will take place. While it may be too early in CERP implementation to define this process in this version of the Regulations, at a minimum the Regulations need to provide a framework for determining what constitutes an existing legal source. The Tribe is working on language to be submitted to the Corps on this issue.
Finally, the Tribe supports the Corps setting up interim goals in the Regulation for restoration benefits and targets for other related water goals. We urge that these measures while analyzed separately, be done so with similar procedures and weight. This is crucial if we are to maintain the balance that is so important to successful CERP implementation.
The Seminole Tribe is unconquered. Our ancestors refused to be forced out of Florida. They fought over a period of 44 years in the three Seminole wars to maintain our freedom, to keep control of our destiny, and to remain in Florida. The Everglades provided our ancestors protection from repeated attacks.
Now, in 2002, the Seminole Tribe contributes to the protection of the Everglades ecosystem. Our people are willing participants in this massive restoration undertaking. The Big Cypress Critical Restoration Project is an integral part of the overall ecosystem restoration. We look forward to our neighbors and all stakeholders continuing to make the necessary commitment to restoring the South Florida ecosystem through CERP implementation and other programs. Without such a commitment, restoration will not be achieved.