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South Florida Ecosystem: Restoration Is Moving Forward but Is Facing Significant Delays, Implementation Challenges, and Rising Costs

GAO-07-520 Published: May 31, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 02, 2007.
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The South Florida ecosystem covers about 18,000 square miles and is home to the Everglades, a national resource. Over the past 100 years, efforts to manage the flow of water through the ecosystem have jeopardized its health. In 2000, a strategy to restore the ecosystem was set; restoration was expected to take at least 40 years and cost $15.4 billion. The restoration comprises hundreds of projects, including 60 key projects known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), to be undertaken by a partnership of federal, state, local, and tribal governments. Given the size and complexity of the restoration, GAO was asked to report on the (1) status of project implementation and expected benefits, (2) factors that determine project sequencing, (3) amount of funding provided for the effort and extent that costs have increased, and (4) primary mathematical models that guide the restoration.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Army Because the correct sequencing of CERP projects is essential to the overall success of the restoration effort, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Corps of Engineers (Corps) to obtain the key data that are needed to ensure that all required sequencing factors are appropriately considered when deciding which projects to implement. Once this information is available, the Corps should comprehensively reassess its sequencing decisions to ensure that CERP projects have been appropriately sequenced to maximize the achievement of restoration goals.
Closed – Implemented
The Corps has developed and continues to refine an Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) that serves as its new project sequencing plan. The development of the IDS involved nearly 2 years of information-gathering through interagency and public collaboration. As part of this effort, the Corps and other key restoration stakeholders established guiding principles for the IDS that provided an improved framework for project sequencing decisions. These guiding principles include the following features, among others: (1) The IDS should include all projects related to the Everglades, including both state and federal initiatives. (2) Project and component interdependencies should drive the sequencing order for constructing projects. (3) Projects should be implemented in a sequence that achieves restoration objectives at the earliest practicable time, consistent with funding constraints. (4) As appropriate, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan's (CERP) agreed-upon interim goals and targets should be used to measure restoration progress. The resulting IDS, which was approved in 2008 by the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, provides the comprehensive sequencing and schedule of construction for CERP and other key projects in the South Florida ecosystem restoration and forecasts federal funding requirements through the year 2020. According to Corps officials, minor changes have been made to the approved IDS through close coordination with various stakeholder groups, and future changes will be made to the schedule in consultation with restoration participants as sequencing, funding, and other factors warrant.
Department of the Interior Given the importance of modeling and interfaces to managing the restoration effort, the Secretary of the Interior, as chair of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, should take the lead on helping participating agencies better coordinate their efforts to develop models and their interfaces.
Closed – Implemented
Interior has taken a number of steps to facilitate the coordination of modeling efforts in its role as chair of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Interior directed the Task Force's Science Coordination Group (SCG) to collaborate with the restoration's participating agencies and with the Interagency Modeling Center (IMC), which focuses on a key subset of restoration projects that form the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Interior has also promoted integration of the IMC's efforts with the department's existing multi-agency program, known as Joint Ecosystem Modeling, which coordinates ecological modeling activities across the restoration initiative. These integration efforts have made key ecological models available for comparisons of alternative restoration scenarios. In addition, Interior coordinated formal and informal dialogue regarding modeling at the 2008 Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Conference. At the conference, experts identified the need for an inventory and assessment of the state of ecological and hydrological modeling in preparation for a related workshop on modeling coordination. In April 2009 the SCG hosted this interdisciplinary workshop in part to address GAO and National Research Council recommendations; it opened with a discussion of model interfaces and a recap of GAO's recommendation on the subject. Moreover, one point of emphasis from the workshop was the need to continue to coordinate and integrate ecological and hydrological models for future restoration planning. According to a senior SCG member, this continuing effort has given restoration managers more useful information for decisionmaking.

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Cost analysisCost overrunsEcosystem managementEcosystemsFederal legislationProgram evaluationSchedule slippagesWildlifeWildlife conservationCost estimatesProgram implementation