The hydrologic system is also unique for political reasons. More than 5 million people live along the coast in close proximity to the wilderness wetlands of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and other public lands. The warm climate that encourages people to live in the region also supports intense agricultural development. Competing interests--wilderness protection, urban expansion, and agricultural development--vie for available water resources. In this arena of competing water-resource demands, the largest environmental restoration effort in the world is underway: the protection and restoration of the Florida Everglades.
The SOFL NAWQA study unit encompasses about 19,500 square miles. The study unit contains large areas of intensive agricultural development, rangeland, and pasture land; has vast areas of wetlands, mostly in public ownership or under public control; and includes a large urban complex of about 4.5 million people. The natural systems in the study unit have been greatly altered by drainage, development, and water management, and water resources of the region have been significantly degraded.
Data collection is designed to address local, regional, and national water-quality concerns. Major water-quality issues of concern were identified in 1994 through the assistance of a local liaison committee of governmental officials, lay people, and others with an interest in water resources in southern Florida. The most important water-quality issues identified are nutrient enrichment, pesticide contamination, mercury contamination, habitat disturbance, and contamination of the Biscayne aquifer.