While the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween costumes disappear after October 31st, the very real and very scary problems facing the Everglades will still be there. Agricultural runoff, irresponsible development, and invasive species are all contributing to serious problems in the “River of Grass”. In honor of this scariest of holidays, Environment Florida offers 10 of the most frightening facts about the Everglades, and what we can do to make next Halloween a lot less terrifying for the Everglades and everyone who depends on them.
- Over the last 100 years, the Everglades have shrunk to less than half their original size as agricultural and residential development in the region expands. The process has been accelerated over the last 30 years by the growth of the sugar industry and skyrocketing development of Florida’s east coast.
- Due to recent decisions made by the Supreme Court, 29% of streams in Florida are at risk of losing their Clean Water Act protections.
- Water from Everglades National Park and other areas drains into the Biscayne Aquifer, which is the source of drinking water for Dade, Broward and some Palm Beach County residents. Meaning more than 7.7 million people depend on the Everglades for drinking water. Without the Everglades to “recharge” this underground water supply, the aquifer would be in danger of running dry or being contaminated by salt water.
- The Everglades has among the highest mercury levels in fish in Florida. The average male Florida panther has higher estrogen levels than females, due to the estrogenic properties of mercury in the fish they eat. The mercury comes from coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities like cement plants.
- Polluted runoff from nearby sugarcane and other agricultural operations as well as encroaching urban sprawl significantly alters the Everglades’ complex and unique water chemistry. This year, the SFWMD acknowledged that even if pollution loading to Lake Okeechobee stopped today, it would take more than 20 years for water quality in the Lake to be restored.
- The South Florida Water Management District currently allows discharges of water into the Everglades that contains 9 times more phosphorus than allowed under the Clean Water Act. This creates what is called nutrient pollution that causes harmful algae blooms.
- Nutrient pollution causes algae blooms that take oxygen out of the water, suffocating much of the natural flora and fauna. More than 25 percent of the Everglades has been damaged by excessive nutrient pollution. Clean-up of Everglades phosphorus pollution was supposed to be completed by 2012, but the state legislature extended it to 2016. Now Gov. Rick Scott is requesting the deadline be pushed to 2022 and asking for millions more dollars.
- Phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee are 3.5 times higher than recommended, causing algae blooms and other indicators of profound imbalances. Wastewater utilities dry sludge from sewage treatment plants and spread it on fields in the Lake Okeechobee watershed as a disposal method. Sludge contributes nearly a quarter of the phosphorous in the watershed.
- Around 1913, water levels in Lake Okeechobee dropped from around 22-feet above mean sea level to about 15-feet above mean sea level, primarily to provide flood control. By maintaining the Lake at these lower levels, the Everglades system has also lost its single largest place to store water.
- Pythons are an invasive species in the Everglades, eating small mammals and disrupting the natural food chain. In the last 4 years, more than 230 pythons have been found in the park. At 19 feet long, they also pose a threat to humans. In the Everglades 26 percent of all resident mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish not native to the region, South Florida has one of the largest non-indigenous faunal communities in the world.
Right now we have a chance to improve the condition of our treasured Everglades and reduce the amount of pollution going into it, so that next Halloween the health of the entire ecosystem will be far less scary. Two recent Supreme Court decisions have put in jeopardy Clean Water Act protection of streams and wetlands across Florida, opening them up to unlimited pollution. In order to ensure the health of the Everglades, we must restore Clean Water Act protections to the small streams and wetlands that feed into it. At the same time, pollution from cities and new development is contaminating the Everglades. To reduce this pollution and stop sewage pollution from harming them further we need the EPA to create new rules that will reduce runoff from new and existing developments, and apply runoff standards to all communities.
We cannot let this opportunity to clean up and protect the Everglades pass us by, which is exactly why Environment Florida is calling on the EPA to restore the Clean Water Act and create new storm water regulations. By acting now, the EPA can protect the Everglades for many Halloweens to come.