Steinman named to national committee to assess Everglades restoration, researcher compares Everglades to Great Lakes

Al Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resources Institute.
Al Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting director of the Annis Water Resources Institute.
Image Credit: Kendra Stanley-Mills

Al Steinman, longtime researcher and professor of water resources, coastal restoration and climate change, has been appointed to the National Academy of Sciences committee to oversee Everglades restoration.

Steinman, the Allen and Helen Hunting director of GVSU's Annis Water Resources Institute, will serve a two-year appointment.

He and 14 other committee members from universities across the country, including Pennsylvania State, Iowa State, Tulane, Yale, Virginia Tech and Southern California, will evaluate the progress attached with the Comprehensive Everglades Research Plan and write a final report to be submitted to Congress. Their findings will be published in a book.

Evaluating the progress of the research plan is a Congressional mandate that has taken place for the past 16 years resulting in eight biennial reviews. Steinman said he has reviewed book chapters, but this is his first time he’s been asked to serve on the national committee.

“Our findings do carry weight,” he said. “Congress will review it and there will be testimony afterward. They will evaluate our findings and determine how to move forward.”

Steinman said restoration of the Everglades is extremely complex and will likely cost at least $16 billion. The main areas of concern are the effects of nutrients, climate change and rising sea levels.

“There is way too much phosphorus coming from dairy and cattle farms into the Everglades,” said Steinman. “The joke in south Florida is — the difference between a drought and flood is 24 hours. The weather just changes so dramatically, and the landscape is so flat that water moves very slowly, making the region very susceptible to both drought and flooding.”

Water flow is heavily managed with a controlled system of pumps, canals and gates, Steinman explained. The overall goal of the restoration effort is to try, as much as possible given all the development that has occurred in south Florida, to restore much of the landscape to the natural hydrology while controlling nutrients and invasive species.

Florida newspaper article showing Al Steinman.
Before coming to Grand Valley in 2001, he spent nine years as the director of restoration for Lake Okeechobee in Florida.
Image Credit: Courtesy photo

Steinman isn’t new to Everglades research. Before coming to Grand Valley in 2001, he spent nine years as the director of restoration for Lake Okeechobee and its connecting estuaries. He addressed nutrient problems and water level changes for the very large and shallow lake, which is referred to as the liquid heart of the Everglades.

One of the emerging problems for the Everglades region is red tide, which is marine algae that release toxins into the atmosphere and when blooming can make it hard to breathe. Steinman said one of the reasons why the red tide has become much worse is because of all the nutrients coming out of Lake Okeechobee being dumped into estuaries.

Al Steinman stands by research poster about Great Lakes restoration.
Al Steinman in Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress about Great Lakes restoration.
Image Credit: Courtesy photo

Steinman said there are some parallels between Everglades restoration and the Great Lakes. He has written articles comparing the two and was asked to testify before Congress on the similarities.

“These two iconic freshwater systems have long been subjected to various stresses by people,” he said. “Drinking water, navigation, manufacturing, and even recreation have been impaired in different ways.”

Despite differences in size, governance structure and impairments, Steinman said the needs associated with large-scale ecosystem protection and restoration result in similar recommendations for the preventive management of both: a robust monitoring network, early warning and detection systems and effective enforcement of regulations.

“Preventive management falls into two categories: prevention before any impairment occurs and prevention following degradation,” he said. “Even in systems as damaged as the Great Lakes and the Florida Everglades, large regions remain unimpacted and relatively pristine, and it is critical that these regions remain protected.”