Charting the Course for Ecosystem

Charting the Course for Ecosystem and Water Management Planning

Biscayne Bay is part of a larger ecosystem and it is directly impacted by activities on the land around it and by the waters connected to it. There are major water management and land use planning activities in progress in south Florida that could have substantial effects on freshwater flow to Biscayne Bay. Two are the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which has restoration of natural systems as a major objec-tive, and the Lower East Coast Regional Water Supply Plan (LECRWSP), which plans to provide water to human users while protecting the natural systems, using various tools of Florida water law. These tools are intended to provide for a sustainable, healthy ecosystem by establishing minimum flows and levels and by providing reservation of water for preservation or restoration of water deliveries.

CERP will substantially restructure the regional water management system. Many functions in CERP will have direct or secondary impacts on Biscayne Bay. In particular, the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Element of CERP and the South Miami-Dade County Reuse Plan will impact the bay.

The LECRWSP will affect the issuance of long-term municipal well field permits. Recent LECRWSP evaluations predict that future urban and agricultural development and water withdrawals for urban drinking water will reduce the amount of water flowing to Biscayne Bay. Currently, no minimum or maximum flows or levels have been established for Biscayne Bay or the lower Biscayne Aquifer.

Both of these planning efforts have created processes to use science-based biological criteria in planning and monitoring, with provision for modifications based on the assessment of monitoring results. Stronger science-based input into ongoing regional restoration plans, land use planning, and water management activities occurring in the watershed is essential for preventing degradation and making manage-ment of Biscayne Bay more effective, and for ensuring that Biscayne Bay?s freshwater inflow needs are met.

The South Dade Watershed Plan, currently being initiated by the Miami-Dade County Department of Planning and Zoning, will examine the impact of different land use patterns on the water quality of Biscayne Bay. This plan will identify lands that are essential for preserving the environmental, economic, and community values of Biscayne National Park. The South Dade Watershed Plan will complement water management activities by develop-ing ?Best Management Practices? for all sources of water runoff into Biscayne National Park, and assuring the compatibility of land uses and zoning decisions.

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Key actions

? The Florida Legislature should provide funding for the most urgent science need, which is using ecological and physical criteria, including the application of numerical models, to determine the quantity, timing, and distribution of freshwater flow needed to protect and restore Biscayne Bay and to reestablish a viable estuarine ecosystem in the near shore and coastal wetland zone of western Biscayne Bay.

? Ongoing regional restoration plans and land-based activities occurring in the watershed should be integrated and coordinated with existing management processes in protecting Biscayne Bay.

? A Science Committee, integrated with the Science Committee of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, should be formed to coordinate the identification of needed scientific research, monitoring, and restoration activities necessary for the welfare of Biscayne Bay. This committee should provide a vehicle for formal interaction with science, management, and regulatory groups in Biscayne Bay and associated ecosystems.

? The Florida Legislature should provide long-term research funding to build scientific knowledge about the bay that can be used in regional water management planning processes to protect and restore the bay, as well as funding for interaction with the public and its representatives.

? The Florida Legislature should ensure that the CERP investigates an alternative to wastewater reuse to meet the ecological goals and objectives of Biscayne Bay. The CERP needs to follow the conclusions in the Implementation Plan and find other potential sources of water to provide freshwater flows to central and southern Biscayne Bay before pursuing the reuse facility.