South Florida relies on a paradox: People need dry land, but it's getting harder to keep the water out. Cities and suburbs have consumed much of one of the planet's largest wetlands, and after 100 years of mismanagement, sea level rise is outpacing adaptation.
The Everglades provided freshwater and land for South Florida to grow and prosper as we dredged, drained, and filled sawgrass marshes to make way for farms, highways, and gated communities. That replumbing left only a fifth as wilderness. The Everglades is a sanctuary for endangered wading birds, panthers, and orchids. Much of the rest increasingly struggles to provide infrastructure—the drinking water, flood control, and a buffer against rising seas—to nearly 10 million people.
By the end of the 20th century, it was clear South Florida needed its river of grass to survive, and in 2000, federal and state officials launched a plan to restore the vast natural plumbing system: a triumph of compromise. But what was billed as the “largest environmental restoration project in history” keeps getting smaller, and more expensive.
This podcast tells the story of the compromises that have threatened the viability of Everglades restoration through the eyes of the people who have seen it firsthand—the Miccosukee Tribe, scientists, fishing guides, and political dealmakers.
Ours is an era of hard choices borne of environmental crisis. Everglades restoration was supposed to provide a blueprint for that challenge, but it’s at risk of becoming a cautionary tale—too big to fail, too small to succeed.