Environmentalists and politicians celebrated on 3 October as Congress approved the first phase of a $7.8 billion dollar plan to replumb southern Florida and restore the Everglades. Some scientists, however, are withholding their applause until the plan has been subjected to further review.
Under the Everglades "Restudy," the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would rip out one of its main engineering feats: a system of pumps and levees built since 1948 to divert water that once flowed south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Designed to prevent floods and supply water to southern Florida's cities and farms, the system is blamed for a 90% drop in wading bird populations and the endangerment of other wetland animals and plants. To restore water flow to the wetlands without flooding other areas, the corps now plans to remove levees and canals, create underground reservoirs, and drill wells to pump water into the ground (Science, 19 May, p. 1166).
The bill, approved by the House and Senate last week and now headed for President Clinton's signature, allots the first $1.4 billion for this 20-year project, half of which will be funded by the state of Florida. But scientists say the overall plan should have been peer-reviewed; they think it relies too much on engineering solutions rather than restoring the natural water flow.
Last December, the National Academy of Sciences installed a committee to advise agencies about the plan; right now, that panel is looking at the aquifer storage plan and ecological models underlying the whole operation. Until the committee weighs in, says Columbia University ecologist Stuart Pimm, "I think it's an open question whether this plan is going to have any ecological benefit."