Back in June, plenty of folks were hurrah-ing Charlie Crist's plan to have the Florida government buy out U.S. Sugar—along with 187,000 acres of property—and repair the Everglades by getting water flowing again through areas ravaged by sugar production. Whoo, it seemed, the Everglades are saved! (Meanwhile, as Mary Williams Walsh shrewdly noted in the Times, things were looking quite peachy for Florida's sole remaining sugar giant, Florida Crystal…)

Was that all a false alarm? As details of the deal are coming to light, it now seems that only half of the 300 square miles Florida is acquiring will be used to restore water flow in the Everglades; the rest will continue to be used for agriculture. All told, Crist's plan may not have an impact for more than a decade, which could be too late: The National Research Council just released a new study about how the degradation in the Everglades wrought by decades of water diversions and fertilizer runoff could soon become utterly irreversible if major changes aren't made soon. The $7.8 billion plan Congress passed in 2000 to restore natural water flow in the area—a plan predicted to take 30 years—is already mired in cost overruns and bureaucratic snafus with the Army Corps of Engineers, while Congress has dragged its heels on matching Florida's spending, as promised.

"We're losing the battle to save this thing," said the NRC report's author, and that... wouldn't be good. Yes, the Everglades is irreplaceable from a biodiversity standpoint, but it's more than that—without the Everglades it's a bleak future in store for the south Florida water supply, which would be bad news for both agriculture and a local population that's set to double to 15 million by 2050, as Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach keep expanding.

P.S. Via Charlie Petit, here's a good graphic on what ails the Everglades:

          

--Bradford Plumer