Inform Article

The Economics of Everglades Restoration

Posted by Joanne Davis of 1000 Friends of Florida
The Economics of Everglades Restoration picture

Fort Myers News-Press
Everglades fix a boon for economy
Florida would reap billions, study says
NOVEMBER 1, 2010
Posted on with permission from Kevin Lollar

While Everglades restoration is aimed at helping South Florida's wildlife, a recent study shows that fixing the ecosystem will also have huge economic benefits for South Florida's humans.
According to the study, conducted for the Everglades Foundation by Mather Economics of Atlanta, the economic benefits in South Florida of the estimated $11.5 billion restoration would be between $46.5 billion and $123.9 billion over the next 50 years - a benefit-cost ratio of at least 4-to-1.

"I'm an outdoorsy person, but the truth is, if what you're doing is only good for the alligators, it's not necessarily a good idea," said Bobby McCormick, the study's principal investigator. "What we wanted to do was provide a business-like approach about public decisions on Everglades restoration.

"If restoration is a business decision, would you do it? What do you get out of spending $11 billion? Is it worth spending the money? Our answer is unequivocally yes."

For Lee County, the economic benefit would be $4.3 billion, including $1 billion in increased real estate values.

Everglades restoration is all about improving South Florida's water quality, and better water quality is what will drive South Florida's economic benefits.

A major economic impact will be money not spent on water purification: Restoration will produce less saline groundwater, so less money will be spent to desalinate water for human use.

Over 50 years, South Florida will save $13 billion on groundwater purification.

When water quality improves, real property will become more valuable. Over the next 50 years, real estate values will increase by $16.1 billion and 273,601 residential construction and real estate-related jobs will be created.

A restored Everglades will attract more tourists to South Florida, and the tourist industry will increase by $1.9 billion.

"What's special about Lee County and Southwest Florida is our beautiful ecosystem," said Tamara Pigott, executive director of Lee County's Visitor & Convention Bureau. "Water quality equals a good environment, and that's what draws people here.

"As to dollar values, there are a lot of ways to skin a cat: One economist will say one thing, and another will say something else. But the obvious economic driver is our ecosystem, and having a healthy Everglades and Lake Okeechobee is critical to us."

Value of fishing

Better water quality translates into healthier marine life, and the study predicts the dockside value of commercial fishing in South Florida will increase by $524 million over the next 50 years.

Over the same time, the study estimates a $2.04 billion increase in value of recreational fishing.

"That makes sense," said Ted Forsgren, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association. "It's not only about the fish but the anglers who go after them. It's the money they spend going after them, money for bait, for lodging, for restaurants. It's worth an awful lot in terms of economics to have good, strong recreational fishing, and cleaner water means better habitat and better fishing."

An important part of Everglades restoration is the reduction of nutrients that frequently cause micro- and macroalgal blooms and fish kills in South Florida waterways.

Although the economic study addresses nutrients, it doesn't say what the economic impact of preventing algal blooms would be.

"We could have put a monetary value on it," McCormick said. "We said, 'Yes, we believe there will be fewer blooms and healthier fishing,' but we didn't know what that would mean monetarily, and we were uncomfortable giving what would be to us a bald-faced guess."

Kurt Harclerode, operations manager with Lee's Division of Natural Resources, said fewer algal blooms will mean a definite economic benefit.

"Intuitively you'd say if water quality improves, there would be a less likelihood of harmful algal blooms," he said. "There is a connection between algal blooms and tourism in Lee County. If an algal bloom causes fish kills, or we have to close beaches, that certainly has a negative effect on our economy."

Restoring the Everglades will cost billions of dollars, but the Mather study states the economic benefit is well worth the expense.

Charles Dauray, a South Florida Water Management District governing board member representing Lee, Collier, Hendry and Charlotte counties, agreed.

"Everglades restoration is not just an outlay of money: It's also an investment in our economic future," he said. "We have to pay for the privilege of changing the course of nature. According to the report, every dollar we invest in Everglades restoration will come back four-fold, but for every dollar we don't invest in restoring and sustaining nature, we lose that much more of nature."