Remarks of Interior Secretary Gale Norton
Delray Beach, Florida
January 10, 2003
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning on one of President Bush's and the Department of Interior's highest environmental priorities, the restoration of the Everglades.
There are, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote, no other Everglades in the world. And that is why we must work together to save them.
During my tenure as Secretary, I've flown over, slogged through, and experienced the beauty of the Everglades.
I have met with and listened to many of you who are involved in the details of the projects that in the end will restore what the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribes call Pahayokee, or "grassy water."
Our goal is an ambitious one. We are committed to restoring natural flows to the Everglades, improving water quality, delivering water for both the natural system and human needs, in the right amounts and at the right time. Together, we will get the water "right" and, in the process, restore a unique ecosystem.
That is the reason we are here this morning. We are here to accomplish something that, at first glance, would seem to be impossible.
We are working together to accomplish an engineering feat the likes of which the world has never seen. Our ambitious undertaking is to replumb an ecosystem that once covered 18,000 square miles so that its natural flows once again provide:
Habitat for wading birds and alligators;
Better recreation opportunities for our children and their children;
and an improved water supply for the residents of South Florida.
The key to our success lies in the strength of our partnership and our commitment to collaboration.
The partnership we need for Everglades restoration is almost as ambitious as the engineering feat. Environmental groups, farmers, communities, utilities, federal and state agencies all benefit from consensus solutions.
If our dialogue is honest and continuing; if our science is sound and independently verified; and if we work together, rather than at cross-purposes, we will make the right decisions, and we will succeed.
Together, we have worked hard to get this far. The partnership over these last two decades has resulted in significant success.
These are just a few of our collective accomplishments. There are many more and many more to come.
The task before us is not an easy one. We are restoring an ecosystem, not just independent components, and we are looking after the people as well as preserving the wildlife.
We have to be confident that we have the right engineering plan to achieve restoration; that we have the best available science to guide our decisions; and that we have the right framework in place to guide our efforts. I believe that we do.
Everyone in this room knew from the beginning, when the Everglades community first began its work to develop CERP, and then when Congress adopted that plan, that we would face many challenges as we moved from the planning stage into the implementation stage. Everyone knew that we would have to make difficult decisions; that we would disagree at times. But the participants also had a shared commitment to work through these issues over the long term. The commitment is still there, and it must be, if we are to reach our goal of restoring the grassy water.
If we collapse into bickering; if we find ourselves walking away from the table; if we try to effect restoration through an adversarial process, we will fail. The Everglades will continue its decline until the water no longer shimmers but is a lifeless reflection of the promises we failed to keep.
Working together will not always be easy. We will certainly face many challenges together over the next four decades.
In many ways, the development of the Army Corps of Engineers' programmatic regulations illustrates the process we will go through repeatedly in the coming decades. A year ago, when the Corps released its initial draft regulations, many of you in this room were critical of it. At the Interior Department, we submitted comments about whether the draft reflected Interior's appropriate role as guardian of half of the Everglades.
I commend the Corps for responding to our concerns and for the extra steps it took to involve all members of the Everglades community in the development of the final regulations, including holding additional public meetings to ensure all sides could raise their concerns during the comment period.
I believe the final regulations, when published, will establish an appropriate framework for restoration. Although the regulations have not yet been finalized, I believe they will institutionalize the significant role the Interior Department and its agencies play in implementing CERP.
Interior will continue to play a leadership role in RECOVER, the entity jointly established by the Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District to assess, evaluate and integrate CERP projects so that system-wide goals will be achieved.
We will work closely with the Corps and the State to establish measurable interim goals to assist agencies in planning and in evaluation our progress. These interim goals will help ensure that the natural system is protected. In fact, one of the RECOVER subteams led by Interior staff has just made public an initial set of proposed interim goal categories.
We will continue to work with our federal and state partners to develop additional guidance for implementing CERP. This includes direction on identifying the appropriate quantity, timing and distribution of water necessary for restoring the natural system and the implementation of adaptive assessment and management activities
Of course, no one is likely to get everything on their wish list in the final programmatic regulations. We may disagree over some of the finer points. But overall, these regulations-along with the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 and the agreement signed last January by the President and the Governor-will provide the legal assurances envisioned by Congress to ensure restoration occurs.
Another immediate challenge that we face is realizing the intended ecological benefits from the Modified Water Deliveries Project.
Many of you know the story of this project, and I will not repeat it here.
However, I want to be clear about one thing. We support the expeditious implementation of Alternative 6-D so that the Modified Water Deliveries Project can be completed. The Corps' environmental documents make clear that Alternative 6-D best balances the requirement to restore more natural water flows to Everglades National Park, while providing flood protection to nearby residents and agricultural land. It is compatible with future restoration efforts
I appreciate the fact that some residents of the 8.5 Square Mile Area do not wish to leave their community. No one does. We can all sympathize with their attachment to their homes.
While we cannot avoid some disruption to their lives, I believe that we can go a long way toward making their lives whole again if we work together. During my first year as Secretary I approved a $6-million dollar grant to the South Florida Water Management District to assist landowners in the 8.5 square mile area to buy replacement homes from willing sellers in the same community.
This will allow those residents who wish to stay to be relocated in the 8.5 square mile area. I urge the District to move forward with this program.
As I said at the beginning of my talk, it is how we do business that's going to determine whether we succeed.
The partnerships and processes that we put in place; now, and over the next few years, will lay the foundation for the restoration effort for years to come,
The Interior Department manages about half of the Everglades as national parks and national wildlife refuges. As such, we are one of the primary beneficiaries of restoration. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to the federal taxpayers, who will invest $4 billion over the next four decades, to ensure they get a restored Everglades ecosystem.
But I believe the Department can play a much broader role in bringing stakeholders together and fostering the collaboration necessary to realize positive ecological change. This collaboration should start right at home, on federal lands. I intend to formalize our partnership with the Everglades community to guide and achieve restoration on our parks and refuges.
To accomplish this end, I will direct my staff to establish an advisory committee to provide input to Interior managers located in South Florida on a wide range of Everglades restoration issues.
We want to expand our collaboration with members of the Everglades community on issues that affect them every day. Building this stronger relationship now will serve us well as we face difficult restoration decisions over the next four decades.
Working together we will develop shared solutions that address the needs and interests of all stakeholders throughout South Florida. I believe this will increase trust and confidence in governmental decision-making and result in better management.
I also will instruct the Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a habitat-based recovery strategy for endangered species. Loss and degradation of habitat is the number one reason species become endangered both nationwide and in Florida. Therefore, we will implement restoration plans for key areas of habitat, including the 107,000-acre East Everglades addition to Everglades National Park.
We will also accelerate efforts to remove invasive exotics at key locations, such as Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and undertake other measures to improve the functional quality of this habitat.
Finally, we need to strengthen Interior's science program. We will target limited resources and take advantage of the scientific knowledge developed by others. Interior agencies will improve the quality and the timeliness of our Everglades science program to ensure that the decisions we make today are based upon and guided by the best available science. To do this, we will develop an overall science action plan to support restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem.
In closing, let me quote Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In the last paragraph of her book, she wrote: " The great wet wildemess of South Florida need not be degraded to a permanent state of mediocrity. If the people will it, if they force their will on the managers of Florida's future, the Everglades can be restored to nature's design."
All of us-all of us in this room and the many other stakeholders-are the managers of Florida's future. As we move forward year by year through this long and challenging process, let us hold on to the vision of a restored and thriving Everglades with healthy and diverse wildlife and the right water in the right place at the right time.
Let us will ourselves to maintain the spirit of collaboration. Working together, I am confident we can restore the Everglades and make this water once again shimmer with life for generations to come.
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