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Federal report shows little progress in Everglades

WEST PALM BEACH— Little progress has been made in restoring the Everglades and the fragile ecosystem continues to be degraded as projects with the greatest potential benefits are put off, a congressionally mandated report released Thursday found.

The fourth biennial review by the National Research Council says that while notable progress in the construction of restoration projects has been made since its last report, those initiatives still have done little to reverse generations of decline.

"Unless near-term progress is made to improve water quantity and restore water flow, ecosystem losses will continue, many of which would require decades to centuries to recover," said William Boggess, chairman of the NRC committee that wrote the report and a professor at Oregon State University.

Since development began on the vast Everglades in the late 19th century, damage has been rampant with the draining of swamp land, the erection of dikes, dams and canals, and the intrusion of farms and development that have polluted with fertilizers and runoff.

The 228-page review looked at all aspects of progress of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, which was approved by Congress in 2000 and originally estimated to cost about $7.8 billion, a price tag that has since ballooned.

The plan aims to restore natural water flow, but has been stymied by years of funding shortfalls, legal challenges and political bickering. The Everglades, meantime, continues to be depleted.

CERP calls for a 50-50 cost share between the state and federal governments. The NRC's report says Florida's spending since 2002, however, has far outpaced that of Washington's, at $3.1 billion compared with $854 million.