Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Attack on Everglades Science

Dr. Christopher McVoy, here doing Everglades research, is now unemployed.
This month, Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature completed their initial dismantling of the staff of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the state agency charged with protecting the Everglades. In all, 280 employees are gone, 60 percent of those in management. (Note: Similar attacks are being carried out at the other state water management districts.) At the South Florida District, it wasn’t a blind, belt-tightening decision. It was an attack on science and more specifically an attack on Everglades restoration.

  A flow map by Dr. McVoy      
One of the scientists laid off was Dr. Christopher McVoy, a Ph.D. in Soil Physics from Cornell and lead author of the recently published 576-page book Landscapes and Hydrology of the Predrainage Everglades. Dr. McVoy, whose 15 years of working at the District ended two Fridays ago, conducted cutting-edge research on how the Everglades functioned. His breakthrough research showed that the key factor in restoring the Everglades was restoring its water flow.
Everglades flow chart by Dr. McVoy

Dr. McVoy focused on the central landscape of the Everglades called ridge and slough, the deposition of sediments by a lattice of little rivers forming tear-shaped islands. He was a detective, probing black and white pictures taken from blimps, looking for clues, anything that could tell us what the Everglades was supposed to look like today. He discovered that unrestricted water flow was the life-blood of the Everglades and that only by removing the north-south barriers could we restore the giant wetland.

An Everglades Skyway rendering, now 6.5 miles of bridges
Soon his research led to policy. Restoring Everglades water flow was the basis of the Everglades Skyway, a 6 ½ mile series of bridges over Tamiami Trail, an effort the George W. Bush Administration called the “lynchpin” of Everglades restoration and the Obama Administration called its “top funding priority.”

Dr. McVoy’s work also probably played a part in Governor Crist’s decision to purchase sugar lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area to help restore Everglades water flow through contiguous reservoirs and Storm Water Treatment areas and over time establish a flow-way through the EAA.

It would be simpler if this was just a story about Dr. McVoy, but it’s not. It’s about something broader and more worrying. Dr. McVoy’s departure was part of a systematic dismantling of environmental regulatory agencies throughout the state. It was a direct attack on nature.

“I'm pretty disappointed that the governor and legislature have lost their commitment to Everglades restoration. This is just straight politics." Dr. McVoy told the Post in its article “Brain Drain Astounding.” http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/state/brain-drain-astounding-as-dozens-depart-water-district-1731384.html

As Dr. McVoy joins the hundreds of South Florida scientists who lost their jobs trying to restore America’s Everglades, we have only one question to ask: Who will restore the Everglades without them?

-- Jonathan Ullman, Sierra Club South Florida/Everglades Senior Organizing Representative, Miami, Florida