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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee is helping Florida save the Everglades.

 Dr. Louis Gross, a UT-Knoxville ecology and mathematics professor, said water sources in South Florida such as Lake Okeechobee provide water for residents, agriculture, and industry in the region. However, diverting water for these uses upsets the Everglades’ ecology and destroys wildlife habitat, Gross said.

As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with Florida and federal agencies, are working to reduce the ecological impact while continuing to provide water for other uses.

 South Florida Water Management District engineers are sending plans for potential water restructuring projects to UT’s Institute for Environmental Modeling to predict their ecological effects, Gross said.

 “This is probably one of the most important ecological restructuring projects in the world, and UT is playing a vital role,” Gross said. “Our models help Florida and various federal agencies look at the effects of alternative plans on all wildlife in the Everglades ecosystem.”

 Gross said major restructuring of the region’s entire water system could take decades and cost billions of dollars. It involves dismantling dams, levees, canals, and pumps, and perhaps building new ones, which restrict water flow in some areas and force it into others.

 UT computer models predict effects more than 30 years in the future for Florida’s endangered panther and Cape Sable seaside sparrow, and other species of birds, fish, and deer.

 The project is called ATLSS — Across Trophic Level System Simulation — and is co-directed by Gross and Dr. Michael Huston, an ecologist and collaborating scientist at UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The work is supported by the National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other agencies. —

 Contact: Dr. Louis Gross (423-974-4295)