By Michael L. Davis
As we look at the seven-county Treasure Coast/ South Florida area, our planning must be guided by an understanding that the lifeblood of this region is water. The quality and quantity of water influences the present and will determine the health and sustainability of our future.
The greater Everglades ecosystem was the natural regulator of our water system. Rainwater from the Kissimmee River basin flowed south and periodically filled Lake Okeechobee. Water flowed from the Lake in a slow journey through a 60-mile wide shallow river to Florida Bay. This “River of Grass” with wetlands covering almost nine million acres was defined by clean water and an abundance of plants and wildlife.
Today the Everglades are about half the size they were. The massive water control system put in place by federal, State and local agencies has allowed the region to become one of the most prosperous places in the world, but this prosperity has come at an enormous cost. Bird and other wildlife populations have declined to alarming levels. Water quality has deteriorated and changed the natural balance in the ecosystem. Damaging amounts of freshwater are being discharged into our estuaries.
The State and federal governments have embarked on a massive program to rescue the Everglades. Authorized by Congress in 2000, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and successor pro- grams are designed to “get the water right.” This program has seen many starts and stops over the past ten or so years. The success of this program is vital and imperative. Why? Because a healthy and sustainable Everglades ecosystem is vital to the sustainability and prosperity of the region. In short, the health of this ecosystem is linked to our drinking water supply, our fisheries, our recreation and open space and to tourism – a major economic engine. Without clean water, an effective water control system and a healthy ecosystem, the region will lose much of what makes it the place people want to live, work and play.
To understand the unquestionable linkage between a healthy environment and a healthy economy one only has to look at our own backyard – the Ever- glades. It is critical that this linkage be made as we make decisions about how and where we grow in the region. Our planning decisions must be born in a crucible of an understanding of this linkage. Seven50 creates a framework for such an understanding.