THE US Army is not all about Stinger
missiles and guerrilla warfare. Its Corps
of Engineers are about to embark on
what has been labelled as the 'the largest
environmental restoration project ever'
- to spend some us $7.8 billion to
restore the Florida Everglades to their
Their plan to dismantle a system of
canals and levees built earlier to drain
the marshes and make these suitable for
agriculture and building would cost a
formidable portion of the money, they
say. Ironically, these levees and canals
were built by the Army engineers themselves over the last 50 years. The restoration plan covers some 28,000 sq kin,
from Orlando to the Florida Keys,
including Lake Okeechobee - the US's
third largest freshwater lake - and the
Kissimmee River. "Nothing of this scale
has ever been attempted," said Ron
Tipton of the Worldwide Fund for
Nature, Washington, USA (Earth News,
Vol 12, No 123).
Over the last 50 years, the
Kissimmee River has been converted
from a meandering river which fed
thousands of hectares (ha) of wetlands
into a straight canal that drains water
from land rapidly. Lake Okeechobee has
been connected by drainage canals to
the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the
Gulf of Mexico to the west. Further, a
system of canals and levees has channelled water away from wetlands, disrupting the natural hydrological cycle.
This has halved the wetland habitat
within the Everglades, put 68 species on
the threatened or endangered list and
decreased populations of wading birds
by as much as 90 per cent. It has also
begun to mean water shortages for the
six million people living in Florida. The
Army plan will try to restore a more natural water cycle. To accomplish this, 800 kin of canals will be closed and 68,000
ha of agricultural land will be turned
into reservoirs and wetlands.
The final plan will be submitted to
the US Congress in July 1999 after public
comment. Then Congress will have to
authorise funding and may even pass a
law empowering the Army to buy land.
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