The Everglades have been high on America's environmental agenda for decades. Famed conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas first warned of the unique swampland's decline a half century ago. But decisive action to save the 12-million-acre expanse has been slow in coming.
Commercial and residential development, and agricultural interests, have usually won out.
But that could be about to change. The voices of those who want to preserve this natural treasure have grown loud and diverse enough to shift the political balance. Last week the US Senate overwhelmingly agreed to devote $7.8 billion to restoring the critical flow of fresh water into the Everglades ecosystem. The House should waste no time in passing the same measure before adjournment.
The scale of the task envisioned in this legislation is staggering. That's another reason decisionmakers have balked over the years. The plan would retool the plumbing of much of south Florida. Levees will be removed, canals rerouted, natural aquifers refilled. The time frame is decades.
The plans were drawn, and the work will be done, by the Army Corps of Engineers. Ironically, this is the same outfit that built the levees that cut off the Everglades wetlands from their sources of water in the late 1940s. That work, done in the name of flood control, has steadily eroded the habitat in Everglades National Park and nearby Big Cypress National Preserve and Biscayne National Park.
Not all the threats to the Everglades are specifically dealt with in the plan before Congress. Some critics of the $7.8 billion plan suspect the emphasis will veer toward assuring more water for commercial and residential development, instead of restoring the water-starved swampland.
Other questions: Will pro-Everglades forces be able to hold off pollution-belching airport construction on the parks' perimeter? Can scientists come up with ways to fend off invading nonnative species like the voracious swamp eel?
The challenges are daunting, but the prospects for saving the Everglades have never been brighter. Most important, the undertaking has strong bipartisan support. The country, and the world, are waiting to see American ingenuity and idealism prove that a man-made environmental disaster can be reversed.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society