River of Grass: Part II

For 20 years, scientists and government officials have been performing water and wildlife studies and have even built a mini model of the Everglades.

Three years ago, the first phase of restoration began, and they say the River of Grass is on the comeback trail.

The Florida Everglades are breathtakingly beautiful.

But scientists say it's only a shadow of what it was 50 years ago.

"We lost a lot of the Everglades through agriculture, urbanization, and I think there's only half of what there used to be,” says environmental scientist Mark Cook.

Ecologists say starting out small is the key to understanding how to bring the River of Grass back.

They're doing this with the 17-acre Loxahatchee Impoundment Landscape Assessment, or LILA, a mini-model of the Everglades.

"The great thing about it is we can control the water, the rates, the depths, how long the water stays in the system and we can't do that in the Everglades so we can fine-tune the work we're trying to do in the Everglades itself,” Cook explains.

Ecologists say since water officials filled in man-made channels and restored moisture to the Kissimmee River floodplain in 2001, maintaining the volume and purity of the water has been a main priority.

And that is done through pumping stations.

They estimate more than 50 stations have been built in the Everglades since the mid-1950's.

"It's used for flood control for the farmers, for the residents, and also as an inflow station for the STA's, the Stormwater Treatment Areas,” comments Gary Fischer, Chief Operator of S5A pump station.

Water from hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland south of Lake Okechobee feeds into the STA34 pump station, that water is then filtered clean and sent back out into the Everglades.

Scientists estimate the Everglades restoration project will cost the state and federal governments close to $8.4 billion over 30 years.

But they say the end result will be a breathtaking natural wonder, on a grand scale.

A Tallahassee spokesman for the Everglades trust tells us sugarcane farming in the Everglades causes a good deal of pollution, which is being cleaned up in part by pumping stations.

Two more phases of the Kissimmee River restoration are slated to be finished by 2012.

The most dramatic result in the last few years has been the return of hundreds of species of wildlife to the river basins and marshlands.

Tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the River of Grass, we'll see why the wildlife is back, and how it is thriving.