STATEMENT OF ANN R. KLEE, COUNSELOR TO THE SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS, UNITED STATES SENATE, OVERSIGHT HEARING ON EVERGLADES RESTORATION.
Mr. Chairman, my name is Ann Klee. I am counselor to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and advise her on a wide range of natural resources and environmental issues, including the restoration of the Everglades. Additionally, Secretary Norton appointed me to serve as Chair of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, an interagency and intergovernmental entity established by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 to coordinate the restoration of the south Florida ecosystem among federal, state, tribal and local governments and the public.
I am pleased to testify before the committee to discuss the important progress we are making to restore the Everglades. I would like to recognize the Committee’s leadership in authorizing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP or Comprehensive Plan) in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 (WRDA 2000). Since that time, we have worked diligently to implement the assurances provisions of WRDA 2000 and undertake other important on-the-ground work in Florida to move us closer to our Everglades restoration goals.
I want to underscore the Department of the Interior’s (Department) commitment to Everglades restoration. It is one of our highest priorities. The National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey will continue efforts to preserve and improve natural habitat; protect and recover endangered and threatened species; and obtain the best
available science to inform our decision-making. As steward of nearly 50 percent of the remaining Everglades, a successful restoration program is an absolute necessity if future generations of Americans are to experience the wonder of one of the world’s greatest natural resources.
The South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force has defined three broad goals for restoration of the Everglades: (1) getting the water right: that is, restoring a more natural water flow to the region while providing adequate water supplies, water quality and flood control; (2) restoring, preserving and protecting natural habitats and species; and (3) fostering compatibility of the built and natural systems. I would like to discuss how Interior’s efforts during the last year are contributing to the collective efforts that are necessary to achieve these goals.
Implementing the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
Since its enactment, we have worked closely with our federal and state partners to begin implementation of the Comprehensive Plan and complete the assurances requirements of WRDA 2000. As you know, at the beginning of this year, the United States and the State of Florida executed a binding and enforceable agreement to ensure that water captured by implementation of the Comprehensive Plan will be reserved by the State from consumptive use consistent with information developed in the Project Implementation Report, indicating appropriate timing, distribution, and flow requirements sufficient for the restoration of the natural system.
The agreement, signed by President George Bush and Governor Jeb Bush, represents a significant and lasting step toward achieving the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan to supply water for the environment and other uses. The agreement requires the state to reserve water from consumptive use after the Army Corps of Engineers issues “Project Implementation Reports” or “PIRs.” These PIRs identify the appropriate quantity, timing and distribution of water, on a project specific basis, that is necessary to restore the natural system. In addition, the State agrees to manage its water resources so that the water produced by implementation of the Comprehensive Plan will be available to restore the natural environment as promised. Finally, the State will monitor and assess the continuing effectiveness of the reservations to achieve the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan. On the federal side of the agreement, the federal government will propose appropriations to implement its share of the Comprehensive Plan; initiate authorized project planning and design; and develop information to support the adaptive assessment and management process. On a parallel track, the Department notes that the South Florida Water Management District (District) is moving quickly to develop the policies and procedures that are necessary at the state level to implement the water reservation and assurances requirements for the Comprehensive Plan. We are encouraged by this progress.
In addition to these important steps, the programmatic regulations are well on their way toward completion with the official public comment period on the proposed draft ending on October 1. We appreciate the Army Corps’ efforts to provide for a large amount of public input into the development of the draft regulations through a series of public meetings, including meetings of the Task Force, and the release of an initial draft of the regulations late last year. The Army Corps’ process reflects, in our view, a successful effort to achieve the necessary consultation and communication among all the parties that is necessary to achieve the conservation results required by WRDA 2000. As Secretary Norton stated earlier this year, long-term collaboration is the key to the success of our Everglades restoration efforts. The process used to develop the draft programmatic regulations is a good start toward the collaborative effort that will be necessary to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s individual project features.
As you know, WRDA 2000 requires the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor of Florida to concur in the issuance of the final programmatic regulations. Generally, we believe the draft regulations now undergoing public review are consistent with WRDA 2000 requirements, which include: (1) providing for the development of projects and project related documents to ensure achievement of the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan; (2) integrating new information into the Comprehensive Plan through principles of adaptive management; and (3) ensuring the protection of the natural system.
Key provisions of the draft programmatic regulations ensure both a strong Departmental voice in the restoration process, as well as the necessary interagency collaboration. Provisions requiring concurrence of the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor include the following six Army Corps guidance memoranda: (1) the format and content of Project Implementation Reports (PIRs); (2) instructions for Project Delivery Team evaluation of PIRs; (3) guidance for system-wide evaluation of PIR alternatives; (4) the content of operating manuals; (5) directions for RECOVER (interagency scientists) assessment activities; and (6) instructions in PIRs to identify the appropriate quantity, timing and distribution of water to be dedicated and managed for the natural system. Additionally, the Department has a strong role supporting interagency science efforts in implementing the Comprehensive Plan. The Department serves as a member of the RECOVER leadership group and co-chair of 4 of the 6 RECOVER sub-teams that have been established to date, and the draft regulations propose that this role continue. Overall, the Department’s role reflects the partnership approach of WRDA 2000 and ensures that our technical expertise will be incorporated early in the planning process.
In addition to having a strong role in developing the guidance memoranda, the Department will have a concurring role in developing the pre-CERP base line, which will establish the hydrologic conditions in the South Florida ecosystem that existed on the date of enactment of WRDA 2000. Establishing a pre-CERP baseline will be the basis for calculating future project benefits, thereby ensuring achievement of restoration objectives. The pre-CERP baseline is also integral to implementing WRDA 2000's savings clause requirements, which protect a number of different legal sources of water, including legal sources for Everglades National Park and fish and wildlife.
Lastly, to ensure the protection of the natural system, the Department, the Army Corps, and the State of Florida will jointly establish interim goals. Interim goals are key to monitoring and evaluating restoration success. The draft regulations propose a process where RECOVER (interagency scientists) will develop interim goals as measurable hydrologic targets, anticipated ecological responses and water quality improvements. Next, the draft regulations propose that the Department, the Army, and the State of Florida execute an interim goals agreement to establish an initial suite of interim goals, with public notice and comment, by December 2003. This approach ensures the most recent and best available science will be used to develop the interim goals. We believe it is appropriate for RECOVER to continue its update to the performance measures for Everglades restoration and, in doing so, consider all available information, including updated hydrologic information and models and ecological baseline data.
Overall, the draft programmatic regulations lay a solid regulatory foundation to guide the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan over the next four decades. Further, the draft regulations provide measures of accountability to safeguard the federal tax-payer’s investment in a restored Everglades. The Army Corps has strived to develop regulations that provide agencies with the necessary flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and principles of adaptive management embraced by the Comprehensive Plan, while at the same time prescribing procedures to ensure consistency of restoration objectives among all the components of the Comprehensive Plan. Together with the binding agreement between the United States and the State of Florida, the programmatic regulations represent a complete package of legal assurances to achieve a restored Everglades. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the Army Corps through to the final issuance of the regulations.
Efforts to preserve and protect natural habitat
In addition to supporting measures to increase water supplies for the environment, the Department is actively implementing other actions to preserve and protect Everglades habitat.
These include acquiring state and federal lands for habitat protection and improvement and eradicating invasive exotics. I am pleased to report that we have nearly completed acquiring the lands for the East Everglades expansion area of Everglades National Park, an effort that began over a decade ago. Once that acquisition is fully complete, the park will begin updating its general management plan to ensure the permanent protection and preservation of this important resource.
Earlier this year we announced an agreement in principle to acquire the mineral rights under Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge from Collier Resources Company. This action will ensure long term conservation of the western Everglades and safeguard the $8 billion taxpayer investment in the Comprehensive Plan by avoiding the surface disturbance that would accompany oil and gas development. The acres affected by the agreement are home to several endangered and threatened species, including the Florida panther, American crocodile, red-cockaded woodpecker, and manatee. We are presently working out the details of a final acquisition agreement, which we hope to complete very soon.
Equally important to our own efforts is our financial partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (District) to acquire lands for Everglades restoration purposes. Land is the single biggest physical constraint to the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan, as the District must acquire about 110,000 acres over the next five years at an estimated cost of $920 million, or $184 million per year. Since 1996, the Department has contributed approximately $320 million to the District for the purpose of acquiring high priority lands for the Comprehensive Plan, including the Talisman and Berry Groves acquisitions. Later this month, I expect Secretary Norton to approve another $15 million grant to the District for the purchase of high priority projects supporting the Comprehensive Plan, including the Indian River Lagoon and the East Coast Buffer/Water Preserve Areas. The Indian River Lagoon features are intended to reduce the impact of watershed runoff to estuaries by reducing the number and frequency of high volume discharges from Lake Okeechobee through drainage canals and restoring historic flow patterns of the river. Similarly, the East Coast Buffer is important to establishing a lineal transition between Everglades habitats to the west and urban developed areas to the east.
Another significant milestone in our ongoing effort to preserve and protect habitat was the signing of a new license agreement with the District for the A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The new license agreement, which was completed in July, includes additional commitments to take aggressive action to reduce infestations of Old World climbing fern, melaleuca, and other invasive exotic species. Efforts to eradicate invasive exotics on other Interior-managed lands continue.
Protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species
Over the last decade the Fish and Wildlife Service has been actively cooperating with other federal, state, tribal and local agencies and expert scientists in ensuring protection for the 69 threatened and endangered species that make the Everglades their home. The Fish and Wildlife Service is employing a landscape-level approach to reverse the decline of threatened and endangered species and implement the steps necessary to conserve both the species and the habitat upon which they depend. This approach is exemplified by a comprehensive recovery initiative, called the Multi-Species Recovery Plan for the Threatened and Endangered Species of South Florida (MSRP).
Implementation of the MSRP emphasizes multi-party cooperation and the use of the best available science; it has already benefited numerous species. For example, in cooperation with the Florida Keys community, the Fish and Wildlife Service established the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge to protect habitat for the endangered Key deer. Using additional funds supplied by the Department earlier this year, the Service will translocate one deer population from the core area on Big Pine Key to achieve the MSRP goal of three stable populations. If successful, this effort will result in the reclassification of the deer from endangered to threatened. In conjunction with this effort, the Service is cooperating in the preparation of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Key deer which will provide added protection for this species and certainty to the residents of the Florida Keys for building permits, infrastructure improvements and road construction.
In another example, the Service has been working in cooperation with expert scientists to augment the Keys population of the endangered Schaus swallowtail butterfly. This effort includes a captive breeding program, habitat preservation initiative, and the use of Safe Harbor agreements. These agreements are established in cooperation with private land owners to enhance habitat for the species while protecting the private landowners from any increase in regulatory burden from increased numbers of endangered species on their property.
Other threatened and endangered species conservation efforts include development of large-scale HCPs for the conservation of the Florida scrub-jay and three species of sea turtles in cooperation with Indian River and Sarasota counties and a landscape approach to conservation of the endangered Florida panther utilizing a recognized panel of experts. To date, the panel has identified all land in south Florida south of the Caloosahatchee River that is essential for the continued conservation of panthers in this region, as well as a landscape linkage to provide for population expansion. As a result of this effort, the Service is working with the State and private partners to develop conservation incentives for landowners.
Obtaining the best available science to guide management decisions
The Department’s bureaus have been long-term partners with other federal and state agencies, tribes, and local governments in developing water-related, geologic, biologic, land use and mapping studies contributing to the long-term viability and restoration of the Everglades. As the restoration effort proceeds, we have an obligation to ensure that we use the best available science in managing our programs and resources. Fiscal accountability also demands that we focus our science on the questions that need to be answered to achieve Everglades restoration goals. We are taking a number of actions to achieve these results. For example, earlier this year the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey entered into a memorandum of understanding to integrate and facilitate coordination of agency science programs to obtain the best available research products and monitoring and assessment tools responsive to the needs of our land management agencies. To facilitate implementation and coordination of our science, the U.S. Geological Survey will be leading a multi-agency and tribal Science Coordination Council consisting of senior managers from each relevant bureau within the Department, the State, and the tribes. The council will be responsible for identifying priority science-related management questions and for ensuring science coordination with our multiple greater Everglades restoration partners.
In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey is developing an overall science plan supporting restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem. The science plan will improve our ability to manage our science program in concert with our federal and state partners. We expect to have a draft of this science plan available for review very soon.
Most importantly, we are committed to implementing the independent science provisions of WRDA 2000. Discussions are underway at the federal level and we look forward to working with our state partners and the Task Force to set up the independent science review panel required by WRDA 2000.
Modified Water Deliveries Project
As the Committee is aware, WRDA 2000 requires completion of the Modified Water Deliveries project before construction funds are appropriated for certain Comprehensive Plan elements, including the Water Conservation Area 3 Decompartmentalization project. As envisioned by Congress in the 1989 Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act, the Modified Water Deliveries Project is crucial to restoring more natural water flows for the 110,000 acres of East Everglades habitat that were added to Everglades National Park, thereby ensuring the ecological integrity and long-term viability of park resources. The completion of the Modified Water Deliveries project is on hold due to litigation. Completion of that project will safeguard the federal taxpayers’ $104 million investment in acquiring the East Everglades, as well as the $160 million expended to date to implement the Modified Water Deliveries project, and is consistent with future actions to be undertaken under the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force
Finally, speaking as Chair of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, I would like to briefly describe how the Task Force is contributing to the restoration effort. This month the Task Force will be publishing its revised Strategy for Restoration of the South Florida Ecosystem and Biennial Report to Congress, the second of such reports. I am pleased to provide the Committee with pre-publication copies of this document, which updates information submitted by the Task Force in July 2000 and describes the restoration and coordination efforts of the Task Force member entities.
During the last year, the Task Force provided a constructive forum to discuss development of the Army Corps’ programmatic regulations. We devoted several Task Force meetings in South Florida and Washington, D.C. to key elements of the regulations, including interim goals and the pre-CERP baseline. Future Task Force meetings will focus on the independent scientific review required by WRDA 2000, continued development of our land acquisition strategy, and flooding issues. The Task Force provides an effective forum for candid discussions of differing views. It is my hope that the Task Force will continue to provide a forum for collaborative decision making and public input on Everglades restoration.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I believe we have an historic opportunity before us to save a national treasure for future generations, while also ensuring south Florida’s future viability. Certainly, this is an environmental project of unprecedented scope and scale. Congress itself recognized the uncertainties involved in such an undertaking. The Comprehensive Plan envisions the use of new technologies; equally significantly, it provide for the application of adaptive management to address those uncertainties.
We will face many challenges over the next several decades as we implement the Comprehensive Plan, but we are well positioned to succeed. First, we have a high degree of collaboration among the State of Florida, the federal government, and concerned citizens. We have forums, including the Task Force and the South Florida Water Management District’s Water Resources Advisory Commission, to share ideas, develop common and consistent restoration policies, and resolve problems before they create insurmountable road blocks to progress. Second, we have developed important legal assurances, including the binding assurances agreement and the programmatic regulations, to guide our efforts to achieve our Everglades restoration goals. Third, the work to implement the specific project features authorized by WRDA 2000 is underway. We have made progress toward implementing specific project features by forming the project delivery teams and acquiring the necessary lands. Finally, efforts to improve water quality are underway; habitat is being protected and restored; and we are taking action to recover species.
In the last decade alone, the federal and state governments have made significant progress on the road to a renewed Everglades, indicating that we have the tools to achieve restoration success. We need to encourage and continue the dialogue among all the affected parties and entities that wish to restore the Everglades. Working together, we can and will achieve our Everglades restoration goals. As Secretary Norton noted earlier this year, long-term collaboration is the key to our success.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee on this important effort. I am pleased to answer any questions you or the other Members of the Committee may have.