5 episodes

In the final days of his administration, with the eyes of the world on Florida where the epic 2000 election recount was underway, President Bill Clinton quietly signed into law a plan to restore the Everglades. Twenty years and $17 billion later, the grandiose vision of reversing decades of environmental damage remains stuck in the swamp. In DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken. From rivers of toxic slime to a mind-boggling plan to inject a giant bubble of freshwater a thousand feet underground, DRAINED examines the massive plan to restore the river of grass and poses the big question about the future of this natural wonder: Can it be saved?

Drained 90.7 WMFE

    • Nature
    • 5.0 • 8 Ratings

In the final days of his administration, with the eyes of the world on Florida where the epic 2000 election recount was underway, President Bill Clinton quietly signed into law a plan to restore the Everglades. Twenty years and $17 billion later, the grandiose vision of reversing decades of environmental damage remains stuck in the swamp. In DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken. From rivers of toxic slime to a mind-boggling plan to inject a giant bubble of freshwater a thousand feet underground, DRAINED examines the massive plan to restore the river of grass and poses the big question about the future of this natural wonder: Can it be saved?

    Neverending Restoration

    Neverending Restoration

    Everglades restoration is based on historical ecological trends in the river of grass, but south Florida’s climate is changing. Can the Everglades be saved? (Hint: It will take a while.)

    We explore this in the final episode of DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, about the massive plan to save the Everglades. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.

    Listen by clicking on the player above or read the transcript below.

    More episodes:

    Episode 1: A River Runs Dry

    Episode 2: Toxic Water

    Episode 3: Define Clean

    Learn more & subscribe to DRAINED



    TRANSCRIPT:

    PHILIP TIPPING: “There is the weevil there. He’s kind of a gray-brown. He’s freezing up. If he sees your shadow he drops, as I said earlier.

    “It’s kind of a nondescript weevil. Nothing fancy. He blends in very, very well with the background.”

    AMY GREEN: Between his fingers Philip Tipping holds the long narrow leaves of a weakened tree. Tipping is dressed in a blue shirt and khaki pants and wearing a floppy canvas hat. On one leaf is the weevil, an insect so small I can hardly see it in the midday sunlight.

    PHILIP TIPPING: “To me, that’s the hero of the biocontrol-of-melaleuca story in Florida.

    “He’s got some chevrons on his back. But now he’s starting to move. Pretty soon he’s gonna, he might fly. I’m gonna put him right back on the tree, though. He still has some eating to do.”AMY GREEN: I’m Amy Green.

    From WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, this is DRAINED — a podcast series about the massive plan to save the Everglades.

    Episode 4, “Neverending restoration.”

    The river of grass, even in its reduced state, remains the nation’s largest subtropical wilderness. It alights the imagination as a veritable Garden of Eden, with creeping vegetation and reptilian, other-worldly creatures like the Burmese python, a snake that is among the largest on Earth measuring 23 feet or more in length and weighing 200 pounds.

    But some of these plants and animals, like the python, do not belong in the Everglades. They are invasive.

    PHILIP TIPPING: “These trees do not look very good. They’ve been chewed up pretty good.”

    AMY GREEN: Few invasive plants of the Everglades are more infamous than the melaleuca, a tall and narrow tree from Australia that can grow as high as 65 feet, with curling, peeling bark and an aroma of Eucalyptus.

    PHILIP TIPPING: “My name is Philip Tipping. I’m the research leader here at the Invasive Plant Research Laboratory.

    “When this tree invades, it turns basically marshland, all kinds of, any habitat you want to mention including just sawgrass prairies, into forests of melaleuca. It utterly transformed the landscape, changed all the burn cycles. It affected nutrient levels. It affected wildlife. It out-competed other plants.”

    AMY GREEN: The melaleuca was introduced in south Florida a century ago as an ornamental and also because the tree was believed to be thirsty enough that it would help drain the Everglades – a living embodiment of humankind’s conquest of the river of grass.

    PHILIP TIPPING: “You can see they’re scoring the leaves here, just removing the plant tissue.”

    AMY GREEN: Today the melaleuca would be easy to dismiss as yet another weed of the Everglades if its r...

    • 21 min
    Define Clean

    Define Clean

    One component of Everglades restoration is aimed at getting the water clean. But what constitutes clean water in the Everglades? And how to make that happen? There’s been a lot of debate about that.

    We explore this in the third episode of DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, about the massive plan to save the Everglades. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.

    Listen by clicking on the player above or read the transcript below.

    More episodes:

    Episode 1: A River Runs Dry

    Episode 2: Toxic Water

    Episode 4: Neverending Restoration

    Learn more & subscribe to DRAINED



    TRANSCRIPT:

    AMY GREEN: “How long does it take to drive across the reservoir footprint, from one side to the other?”

    TIM HARPER: “It takes, because the terrain is so rocky, it takes about a half an hour to get from one side of the reservoir to the other. Maybe a little bit less.”

    AMY GREEN: Tim Harper and I are stopped in his pickup truck. Harper is an affable man with a salmon-colored shirt and shiny sunglasses.

    TIM HARPER: “But basically if you look to the your, look to the south and you look to the north of here about two and a half miles that way’s the reservoir. Two and a half miles this way is the reservoir. That’s how big it is. We’re smack dab in the middle of the reservoir.”

    AMY GREEN: “And what are we looking at right now?

    TIM HARPER: “Right now this is farm fields. We’re looking at sugar cane, we’re looking at farm pumps, farm ditches. This is all heavy production. Big sugar, sugar. Farmers are here, looking to harvest pretty soon.”

    AMY GREEN: “And this is going to be under 20 feet of water?”

    TIM HARPER: “Yeah eventually. When the reservoir is done.”

    AMY GREEN: “It’s like a reflooding of the Everglades.”

    AMY GREEN: I’m Amy Green and this is DRAINED — a podcast series about the massive plan to save the Everglades.

    Episode 3, “Define clean.”

    Few components of Everglades restoration have drawn more debate, or are more central to its mission of reviving a more natural water flow, than a reservoir to be built south of Lake Okeechobee, among the cane fields of the Everglades Agricultural Area.

    TIM HARPER: “This is where rock was blasted. If you want to get out here we can kick some rocks around, maybe.”

    AMY GREEN: The Florida Legislature agreed in 2017 to jump-start construction on the reservoir in response to toxic algae, as you heard in the last episode. But sugar growers strongly opposed the reservoir on their land.

    AMY GREEN: “A little slippery!”

    TIM HARPER: “Yeah, be careful.”

    AMY GREEN: In September I drove down to the reservoir site to see the progress for myself. Construction will not begin until 2021 or 2022, but work already was underway on an adjoining marsh or stormwater treatment area that will filter the water of nutrient pollution before it flows into Everglades National Park to the south.

    TIM HARPER: “My name is Tim Harper. I’m an engineer with the South Florida Water Management District, and I’m a construction manager of the project.”

    AMY GREEN: Harper showed me around. After a long drive through the cane fields, I climbed out of Harper’s truck and carefully stepped down a muddy embankment onto a constr...

    • 22 min
    Toxic Water

    Toxic Water

    When it comes to Everglades restoration, it is difficult to overstate how complicated everything is – and massive. The effort is aimed at recapturing billions of gallons of freshwater that is pumped out to sea, but where to put it all? One suggestion: underground.

    We explore this in the second episode of DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, about the massive plan to save the Everglades. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.

    Listen by clicking on the player above or read the transcript below.

    More episodes:

    Episode 1: A River Runs Dry

    Episode 3: Define Clean

    Episode 4: Neverending Restoration

    Learn more & subscribe to DRAINED



    TRANSCRIPT:

    JACQUI THURLOW-LIPPISCH: “Alright Ed, here we go. Here we go.

    “Alright we’re up.”

    AMY GREEN: Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a compact powerhouse of a woman with a streak of silver in her course dark hair. In my work chronicling the state’s water problems I have met few Floridians more dedicated to the situation than she is.

    JACQUI THURLOW-LIPPISCH: “Okay, we’re going to head to the St. Lucie Locks and Dam, which is in the C-44 canal, which is the dreaded canal that was dug in 1915 to 1923 connecting Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St. Lucie River.”

    AMY GREEN: Thurlow-Lippisch is a governing board member for the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency overseeing Everglades restoration. In her spare time she flies with her pilot husband, Ed Lippisch, above the river of grass, documenting the problems for her blog.

    JACQUI THURLOW-LIPPISCH: “That is how waters are discharged from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River. We call it the seven gates of hell.

    “Because there are seven gates, and they open one to seven depending on how much water the army corps discharges through that gate. And it is truly the seven gates of hell.”

    AMY GREEN: I’m Amy Green.

    From WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, this is DRAINED — a podcast series about the massive plan to save the Everglades.

    Episode 2, Toxic water

    On a bright Saturday morning in August Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband took off near Stuart, in their B55 Baron Beechcraft.

    I asked Thurlow-Lippisch to record the flight on her cell phone, as social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic prevented me from flying with them.

    JACQUI THURLOW-LIPPISCH: “When you’re up here it is so beautiful in spite of the water issues. You see the bright blue Atlantic Ocean. You see the darker-colored Indian River Lagoon, the beautiful savannahs. This is Florida. Florida. Everything is at stake with Florida’s waters. If we don’t have our waters in order, we don’t have Florida’s future in order.”

    AMY GREEN: It’s possible you’ve seen Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch’s photographs of large discharges of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee, as it flows through the St. Lucie River to the river’s delicate estuary on the Atlantic Ocean. In the images the dark lake water appears ominous, like a shadow spreading across the aqua-marine brackish water of the coastal estuary.

    The photographs have appeared widely on social media and in the news. That’s because in 2016 and 2018 the lake discharges — water that nature intended to flow south into the Everglades — helped trigger widespread bl...

    • 23 min
    A River Runs Dry

    A River Runs Dry

    In Everglades National Park, parts of the river of grass are collapsing – literally. A lot of the problems have to do with massive efforts to drain and replumb Florida’s most important water resource, an ecosystem unlike any other on Earth.

    Welcome to the first episode of DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, about the massive plan to save the Everglades. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.

    Listen by clicking on the player above or read the transcript below.

    More episodes:

    Episode 2: Toxic Water

    Episode 3: Define Clean

    Episode 4: Neverending Restoration

    Learn more & subscribe to DRAINED



    TRANSCRIPT:

    AMY GREEN: Just off the main road through the sawgrass prairie of Everglades National Park …

    AMY GREEN: “I’m stepping very carefully because I do not want to fall in the water.”

    AMY GREEN: … the river of grass is collapsing. Literally.

    AMY GREEN: “The water feels great. It’s so cool and refreshing.”

    Splash!

    AMY GREEN: “OK, I just fell in almost to my waist, but I’m back now.

    “What did I just fall into exactly?”

    TIFFANY TROXLER: “That is some of the peat, and the limestone is about, I don’t know, five feet below us right now. So I don’t think you fell all the way to the limestone. But yes, you fell through a hole, a common occurrence in Everglades field research. So you’re indoctrinated. You’ve become a field researcher. Bravo.”

    AMY GREEN: Tiffany Troxler is the science director at the Sea Level Solutions Center in the Institute of Environment at Florida International University. She and I are stepping precariously across a series of wooden and aluminum boards forming a narrow bridge across a 10 foot-by-10-foot hole of water, basically, that has opened up here in the sawgrass.

    TIFFANY TROXLER: “The collapse here is, it’s patchy. You get some larger ponds, but you see a number of sawgrass pedestals that remain.”

    AMY GREEN: Troxler kneels, reaches into the water and retrieves a fistful of the soil at the bottom, peat.

    TIFFANY TROXLER: “You can feel it’s spongy, and it holds a lot of water. So if you squeeze it, you can compress it down to something much smaller in size.”

    AMY GREEN: The peat is dense and richly black, made of decomposed plant remains that have piled up layer upon layer over centuries.

    AMY GREEN: “Is this kind of like looking at an Everglades time capsule?”

    TIFFANY TROXLER: “That’s a great way to think about it. Absolutely. This stuff takes a very long time to accumulate.”

    AMY GREEN: “Like how many years?”

    TIFFANY TROXLER: “Thousands of years to accumulate.”

    TIFFANY TROXLER: “Peat is essentially the foundation that all of or much of the wetland area that you see in the Everglades is supported by.

    “The elevation of the peat also controls the type of habitats that you see in the Everglades. If it’s a little bit higher you get tree islands. If it’s a little bit lower you can get sawgrass marshes.

    “Very small changes in the elevation of the peat control the distribution of the habitats, and the distribution of the habitats is what supports the extraordinary wildlife that people from all over the world come to see.”

    • 21 min
    Drained - About This Series

    Drained - About This Series

    In the final days of his administration, with the eyes of the world on Florida where the epic 2000 election recount was underway, President Bill Clinton quietly signed into law a plan to restore the Everglades. Twenty years and $17 billion later, the grandiose vision of reversing decades of environmental damage remains stuck in the swamp. In DRAINED, a podcast from WMFE and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Amy Green wades into the controversy around one of the most ambitious environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken. From rivers of toxic slime to a mind-boggling plan to inject a giant bubble of freshwater a thousand feet underground, DRAINED examines the massive plan to restore the river of grass and poses the big question about the future of this natural wonder: Can it be saved?

    • 3 min

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