Economic Analysis Predicts Minimum 4-1 Return on Restoring the Everglades Ecosystem

Restoring the Everglades ecosystem not only would be good for the health of Shark River Slough and Florida Bay, but it would be an economic boon for Florida. NPS photos.

Restoring the "river of grass" in Florida is not only an environmentally wise investment, but it also would generate a substantial return to the state's economy, according to a study prepared for the Everglades Foundation.

In the worst-case scenario, spending $11.5 billion on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan would generate another $46.5 billion in jobs, tourism dollars, and higher home values, according to foundation officials. The best-case scenario outlined in the study performed by Mather Economics boosts that return to $123.9 billion.

"It is clear that Everglades restoration not only produces ecological benefits, but also generates a robust economic boost to our economy. For every dollar spent on Everglades restoration, we are getting four dollars back in the form of higher home values, increased tourism and stronger fishing, boating and tourism industries," said Kirk Fordham, the foundation's chief executive officer. "When we invest in protecting and restoring the Everglades, we are also revving up a powerful job creation engine. Aside from the good paying jobs in construction, engineering and the sciences that come with restoration projects, we are boosting employment in a wide range of industries."

The study shows that for every one dollar spent on Everglades restoration as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, $4.04 would be generated in economic benefits, the foundation said in a release. Projections indicate that there will be an incremental impact on employment of about 442,644 additional jobs over 50 years, it added. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also estimates there will be 22,966 new short- to mid-term jobs created as a result of actual restoration projects.

To help you understand how the economic return can be so great, the foundation points out that more than 7 million people "live in the Everglades watershed and depend on its natural systems for their livelihood, food and drinking water. Florida’s agriculture, boating, tourism, real estate, recreational and commercial fishing industries all depend on a healthy Everglades ecosystem, which supports tens of thousands of jobs and contributing billions to our economy. Its waters flow through Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Biscayne National Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Together, these parks draw several million visitors each year, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to Florida’s tourism economy."

“Let’s think about the basic ecosystem services provided by the Everglades as a grocery store featuring ‘products’ ranging from water purification to enhanced tourism," said Bobby McCormick, Ph.D., the principal investigator on the analysis for Mather Economics, which is based in Atlanta. "We created six distinct aisles or divisions and a catch-all section. For each of these categories, we conservatively estimated, using best available data and economic methods, the increase in economic value of a restored Everglades ecosystem. The bottom line, as our analysis strongly suggests, is that the rewards of restoration far outweigh the economic costs.”

In addition, the study shows that Everglades restoration will result in added value to the economy of $5,129 per individual residing in the 16-county South Florida Water Management District.

At the National Park Conservation Association's Sun Coast Regional Office, Dawn Shirreffs, the group's Everglades Restoration program manager, said the benefits actually could even be higher than those portrayed in the report, as it did not take into account the benefits the restoration could have on mitigating climate-change impacts. With sea level rise a serious concern, one that could devastate south Florida's water resources, a healthy Everglades ecosystem could greatly help protect those resources, she said.

“One of the most revealing things in Florida and Everglades National Park specifically is it’s so deeply tied to our water supply," said Ms. Shirreffs. "They didn’t include sea level rise (in the economic analysis), and we’re one of the most vulnerable places.”

The restoration of the Everglades currently is the only project moving forward that could mitigate sea-level rise in Florida, she said.

More than a decade ago the Clinton administration promised to embark on an expansive, and expensive, plan to restore the Everglades. That project was seen as a way to restore, preserve, and protect the South Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection. With an estimated total cost of $10.7 billion to the federal government and $11.8 billion to the state of Florida, the initiative is the largest hydrologic restoration project in U.S. history.

While the massive restoration project has been moving forward in fits and starts, the Obama administration has promised to keep whittling away at it.

The Omnibus Appropriation Act for fiscal year 2009 provided a total of $241 million for Everglades’ projects, including $118 million from the Department of the Interior and $123 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And last year another $119.2 million was provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

At the Everglades Foundation, CEO Fordham said that while the country is wallowing in an economic malaise, that shouldn't derail the massive restoration project.

"Too often, we hear arguments that we can't afford to invest in Everglades restoration during an economic downturn. Instead, smart policymakers recognize that the future of our state's economic growth depends on protecting the Everglades and the water supply it provides to one in three Floridians," he said. "Simply put: we can't grow our economy if we allow the Everglades to collapse."

While it would be nice to think we wouldn't need to make economic justifications to invest in the health of our national parks, Ms. Shirreffs said sometimes that connection has to be made.

"Is there an intrinsic value, a cultural, historic, not to mention environmental, value to restoring our parks? Absolutely," she said. "(But) it doesn’t register as high on priority lists of appropriation folks equally. It's important for those folks to be able to understand that this isn’t just about putting aside money for the intrinsic side of our national parks, that it also has economic value.”

The 173-page report, Measuring the Economic Benefits of America’s Everglades Restoration: An Economic Evaluation of Ecosystem Services Affiliated with the World’s Largest Ecosystem, is available in its entirety in pdf form at this site.