Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Watch a Kite Fly....But Perhaps Not For Long

Swooping low and silent over Lake Okeechobee is the Everglade Snail Kite (Kite), preparing to select an apple snail from a water lily in its critical habitat. Lake Okeechobee is home to the endangered Kite, despite the fact that from the year 2000 until the present, the freshwater wetland has experienced extreme weather patterns and been subjected to new water management protocols which have created record low water levels for record lengths of time at increased frequencies. Lake Okeechobee now rarely provides suitable habitat for Kite nesting, or even foraging for that matter, causing the Kite population in Florida to decline from about 3000 individuals in the year 2000 to less than 700 today. “Who cares?,” you may ask.

Well, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), touted as providing a “framework to restore, protect and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida,” seems to think it is important. You see, CERP, a partnership comprised of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), has more than 50 performance measures used to assess success in water management for the human population. Only three of these measures rank as “Total System-wide Performance Measures,” and the success of the Everglade Snail Kite is one of them due to its reliance on a properly functioning Everglades ecosystem. Thus, achieving Kite persistence is expected to demonstrate system-wide sustainable restoration, resulting in confidence that needs can be met for the human population.

However, in the month of March 2011, according to the South Florida Water Management District, “the region has received only 47 percent of its historic average rainfall through March 22, or 0.95 inches for a deficit of 1.18 inches,” which “follows the driest October-to-February period in 80 years and a dry season deficit that has reached 7.62 inches as of March 22, 2011.” This is concerning when on considers that “The Big O” is not only the seventh largest freshwater lake in the United States, but also South Florida's backup water supply which is relied upon to replenish drinking water supplies for some communities and tapped for irrigation by sugar cane growers and other farmers. Furthermore, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, Florida's human population will grow by about 12 million people between 2000 and 2030.

So, it seems to follow, if we don’t protect the lake’s traditional water level with higher restrictions and increased conservation, then the federally endangered Everglade Snail Kite (Kite) could be in serious trouble. And where the Kite goes, so may we.

-Tim Nalepka, Legal Intern

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