While in the 1990s, scientists made head in decreasing the mercury and phosphorus levels in the natural environment of South Florida and the Everglades continued to decline. Life in nearby cities reflected the decline, and in 1995 Governor Lawton Chiles commissioned a report on the sustainability of the area. The commission reported that the degradation of the Everglades ecosystems lowered the quality of life in the urban areas. Also noted in the report were the past environmental abuses. The state was put in a position where they had to make a decision. By not acting to improve the South Florida ecosystem, it was predicted that inevitably there would be further and intolerable deterioration to the tourism and commercial fishing industries.
As part of the Water Development act of 1992, in 1999, an evaluation of the C&SF was submitted to Congress. The report called “Restudy,” cited harmful indicators to the ecosystem:
- A fifty percent reduction in the original Everglades.
- A diminished water storage.
- The harmful timing of water releases from canals and pumping station.
- An eighty-five to ninety percent decrease in wading bird populations in the last fifty years.
- A decline in output from commercial fisheries.
Drastic water levels changes with hypersalinity and dramatic changes in the marine and freshwater ecosystems were seen in Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, St. Lucie estuary, Lake Worth Lagoon, Biscayne Bay, the Florida Bay and the Everglades. It was noted in the Restudy that the overall decline in water quality over the last fifty years was due to the loss of wetlands. The wetlands are the natural filters for polluted water. By this point, without intervention, the entire South Florida ecosystem would deteriorate.
The most expensive and comprehensive ecological repair project in history called The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was proposed. The plan consisted of more than sixty construction projects over thirty years. The projects included:
- Store water that was being flushed into the ocean, reservoirs, underground aquifers and abandoned quarries.
- Add more Stormwater Treatment Areas where water flowed into the lower Everglades.
- Regulate water released from pumping stations into local waterways.
- Improve water released into the Everglades National Park and Water Conservation Areas.
- Remove barriers to sheet flow by raising the Tamiami Trial and destroying the Miami Canal.
Cost estimates for the entire plan were 7.8 billion. CERP was voted through Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 11, 2000.
Since that time, it has been reported that the State of Florida has spent more than $2 billion on various projects. Those include:
- 36,000 acres of Stormwater Treatment Areas have been constructed to filter 2,500 short tons of phosphorus from Everglades waters.
- The largest manmade wetland in the world was constructed in 2004 spanning 17,000 acres.
- Fifty-five percent of the land necessary to be acquired for the restoration has been purchased by the State of Florida totaling 210,167 acres.
A plan called “Acceler8” to hasten the construction and funding of the eight larger projects was put in place and included the three large reservoirs. However, due to federal budget deficits, the funds have not been forthcoming.
In 2012, a fourth report in the series on CERP found little progress had been made in restoring the core of the remaining Everglades ecosystem. The report concluded that before it is too late, the ongoing degradation in both the water quality and hydrology in the central Everglades needs to be reversed.