Back in the day, says Dan Kimball ’74, there were so many wading birds roosting in the Florida Everglades that when a colony of them took flight, it would block out the sun. Just imagine. But the natural flow of fresh water through the Everglades that provided the wetland habitat for these birds has long been disrupted. What was good for south Florida—flood protection and a dependable water supply—was lousy for the U.S.’s only subtropic wet-lands. Florida’s population is burgeoning at the rate of a thousand new residents a day. Its skies, unfortunately, are less crowded. For every heron, egret, ibis, or wood stork, that you see now, there are nine others no longer there. Ninety percent gone. Just imagine.
The birds and other wildlife are not the only ones with a problem. Seventy percent of the fresh water that historically ran through this “river of grass” is now diverted to estuaries, causing damage to the saltwater habitat. All in all, an extraordinary ecosystem is dying.
That’s the bad news. The better news is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project—a $10.5 billion, 35-year plan. Kimball is in the thick of things as a water resource expert and the superintendent of the million-and-a-half-acre Everglades National Park. “The Everglades are a vast wilderness right next to a six-million-person metroplex. What we’re trying to do is restore the resources that were degraded,” says Kimball, “The trick is that we’ve got to do that and still provide for flood protection and water supply for the six million.
“It’s the largest ecosystem restoration ever attempted on the planet,” adds Kimball. Just imagine.