The Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project was given the thumbs up when Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed the bill into law n May of 2017. The Law provides over $1 Billion dollars of funding to find and develop water storage areas south of Lake Okeechobee.
The Caloosahatchee River and St Lucie Rivers which run east and west have been getting the greatest discharges of water from the lake in order to keep its height within safe levels. The discharges have carried harmful nutrient water flows into these rivers and caused green slime, tainted brown water and foul smelling algae into the communities that these rivers empty into.
The area south of Lake Okeechobee has been turned into a massive agricultural region by farmers and developers over the past century and cut off the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades National Park. The establishment of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir Project which is planned to hold 240,000 acre feet of water will help to clean the water coming from Lake O and re-establish the flow of water going to the Everglades National Park.
I took a trip to the region south of Lake Okeechobee a few years ago to do some bird watching and I saw some of the Storm Water Treatment Areas that are already in use which serve to cleanse and treat water from the lake. The photos above are of one of those water treatment areas and the W.P Franklin Locks on the Caloosahatchee River. Visit the South Florida Water Management District website to learn more about the water storage conservation and treatment areas currently working or in the planning stages. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan also has a good website to learn about the history and work of restoring the Everglades.
The pictures shown above are of the visitor center and paths through the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel Island, Fla. SCCF is one of the many attractions on Sanibel because they have several preserves, trails, a garden center and exhibits that show and explain how coastal and inland habitats live and thrive under unique conditions. The main mission of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is to conserve the coastal resources and aquatic habitats on Sanibel and Captiva and surrounding watershed.
The SCCF has several scientists on staff who monitor the water quality around Sanibel and report on the amount of pollution, dissolved oxygen, salinity and other factors of the watershed. The waters around Sanibel were once filled with healthy oyster beds but they have been diminished and threatened by the amount of pollution coming from nearby places.
The Visitor Center at the SCCF is a great place to see the native animals and plants that live on Sanibel-Captiva including the turtles who nest on the islands. There are live turtles to view and exhibits of habitats. If you have the time and like hiking, there is a trail that winds through the several hundred acre preserve where you can view fresh water habitats, native birds and trees on Sanibel. The trail is well marked and you can take a short stroll or walk the whole length of the preserve which can take an hour or two. The trail contains an observation tower as well.
One of the best well known and cared for parts of SCCF is the Native Garden Center which was recently moved to a better and larger location on Periwinkle Way which contains several acres of plants and shrubs to view or purchase. It is managed and cared for by employees of SCCF and many volunteers.
The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve consists of 3,500 acres of wetlands which vary from slow moving swamps or sloughs, dry areas consisting of hammocks and forests containing many of the native trees of Florida.
The Six Mile Slough was created in 1970 with the encouragement of concerned citizens who saw the natural ecosystems being destroyed by heavy commercial and residential development in South Florida. Sloughs are slow moving swamps that move rainfall over the landscape and help to filter the water as it seeps into underground aquifers.
The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is 11 miles long and 1/3 mile wide and is one of the few areas where visitors can visit a wetland that resembles an ecosystem that dominated the landscape years ago. The depth of the water is usually 2-3 feet deep but the unusual heavy rains and tropical storms this summer have made the slough over 10 feet deep. It is located in Ft. Myers, off of Six Mile Cypress Pkwy.
The South Florida Management District keeps track of the monthly and yearly rainfall levels in South Florida and Lake Okeechobee. Visitors to the slough can enjoy a scenic walk on a 2 mile boardwalk through the slough and also visit the interpretive center which has exhibits of old Florida and plants and animals which inhabit the slough.
The pictures shown above are of the slough. Click on any image for a larger view. The park employs naturalists who give tours of the park on the boardwalk and also give wet walks through the swamp for those who are more adventurous. The Six Mile Slough is also a great place to go birding and view many of the birds who make wetlands their home. Visit their website at https://www.sloughpreserve.org/
Florida Aquifers – Illustration Coutesy of Florida Dept of Envir. Protection
USA Today reported on April 13, an article titled “Audit: EPA Lax in Making Water Safe” . The article states that oil and gas companies are not adhering to safe practices in disposing of waste water from oil and gas wells all across the United States. The article states that a review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to provide proper oversight of injection wells where oil and gas companies put their waste water and chemicals. This is a huge environmental and human safety problem because most of our drinking water comes from underground aquifers which are threatened by these injection wells.
This news in the wake of the Flint water drinking water problem and other municipal water supplies that are contaminated by lead shows that our nations’ water supplies are in danger and need greater oversight by our environmental protection agencies. I get angry when there is a call to reduce our national regulations by politicians, make government smaller and cutting the funds that are used to oversee and maintain our environmental programs and agencies. The failure of the U.S. Environmental protection Agency to adequately oversee all the injection wells being drilled by oil and gas companies probably stems from lack of personnel and staff to do their jobs. The damage done to our environment and clean up efforts once the damage is done is far more costly than preventing the unsafe practices in the first place.
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District began opening the flood gates to Lake Okeechobee to lower the water levels in the lake which have risen to over 15 ½ feet. Anything over that level is deemed dangerous to the levee system which surrounds the lake. The water is being released down the Caloosahatchee River at a rate of 70,000 gallons per second. The heavy rains from this winter season have saturated the lands which drain into the Kissimmee River water basin where the lake gets much of it’s water supply.
Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by a levee system of dirt and concrete steel berms that extend for 143 miles around the lake. Lake Okeechobee is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the United States and is 730 sq. miles. across its surface. The levee system was started in 1915 and enlarged by the Army Corp. of Engineers to protect the people and town south of the lake from flooding when the lakes’ waters traditionally overflowed its banks and travelled south towards the Everglades. Hurricanes in the 1920’s and 1940’s caused massive flooding when the levees were breeched and flood waters from the lake resulted in loss of life for the people living near the lake. The Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers were connected to the lake to create a navigable waterway between the east and west coast of Florida and to create spillways for lake water when Lake Okeechobee gets too high.
The problem with the massive water releases from the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St Lucie River Estuaries are the large amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are in the lake water which causes algae blooms and fish die-offs when it reaches the brackish and salty waters in the river and the Gulf of Mexico. City leaders on Sanibel and Ft. Myers Beach, home owners, environmentalists and tourists are not happy when they see the river and beaches fouled by dead fish, and brown colored water. They want the state and federal government to speed up the process of creating water basins which can be used to hold some of these water releases instead of the rivers being used as spillways and discharge points. The problem seems to be the cost of creating these water storage basins along the river and south Lake Okeechobee which can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. State legislators and the federal government have been hard pressed to spend the extra money which is needed to protect our fragile environment.
The large underground aquifer in the Midwest underlying 8 states known as the Ogallala aquifer is losing it’s massive quantities of water and its levels are dropping. The aquifer used by farmers to irrigate their crops, homeowner wells and industrial use for business is being depleted faster than rainfall and precipitation can recharge the aquifer.
Aquifer levels are being lowered in other states and regions including California, the Mississippi River Valley, and the Southwestern and Southeastern states as well. California has even seen land subsidence in parts of the state because the water levels are so low. During the year in 2011 Americans pumped 76 billion gallons of water out of the ground per day. Water conservation measures are the norm now in places like California to lower water use.
The newspaper USA Today did an extensive study of 32,000 wells in the U.S. to determine how high the water levels were and found that 2/3 of them were much lower than previous years. The Plains states in the Midwest where much of the nations food is grown has average water levels 13.2 ft. lower today than in 1995. Agriculture accounts for about 2/3 of the nations water use of underground fresh water.
Florida has a similar problem despite the fact that the state gets almost 5 ft. of rainfall per year. During the 20th century, state land managers and developers had been turning wetlands into drylands by building canals, dams, levees and pump station across the state. The well meaning actions by land managers decades ago to protect people from flooding and make the wetlands useful for farming and home developments has now turned into a billion dollar effort to reclaim the land and turn dry land back into wetlands. Florida’s 20 million people need an adequate supply of fresh drinking water which comes mostly from underground aquifers.
Florida used to be a vast wetland consisting of swamps, sloughs, winding rivers and floodplains. Most of that has been wiped away from the efforts of mankind. Places like the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers which was re-established by county managers about 25 years ago is an example of re-claiming the land and allow it to absorb rainfall, storm water runoff and sheet flow of water running across the land. There are many other water reclamation projects being done in Florida by the Army Corp of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District and EPA.
Clouds over Florida provide the state with over 54 inches of rain each year. Most of that precipatation comes during the spring and summer months. The clouds that form before, during and after a rain storm are something to see. They increase in size and look like a hundred story building both vertically and across. The thunder and lightning that comes with some of these rain storms are huge and impressive also.
The fun in seeing these storm clouds is looking at the various formations they make. I got on the UCAR Center for Science Education to get the names of some of these formations which I used to know.
The early morning light and late day sun rays give the clouds another dimension which makes them beautiful to look at. It’s hard to believe that Florida has a water shortage problem with all of our rainfall but with a population of 20 million people and growing and the states history of draining our wetlands to make way for cities, farms and dry land, it is understandable. I read on one website that an average rain cloud weighs 550 tons and contains 30 billion raindrops. Some of the clouds is the picture gallery look at least this big. The water vapor that the atmosphere contains in summer makes it feel like you could cut the air with a knife. The rain storms which often occur in late afternoon brings a welcome relief of a temperature decrease, sometimes as much as 10 degrees.
Florida’s residents and businesses use 15 Billions of water per day. In Lee County the population of just over 500 thousand people use 131 million gallons per day or just over 70 gallons per person. Florida cannot sustain that kind of water use especially with a growing population at 20 million people now and growing . The state estimates it will need to supply another 2 Billion gallons of water to Florida’s residents in the next 20 years. Florida gets most of it’s water from underground aquifers which are filled with water from the 54 inches of rain it gets each year. The problem is that we are pumping it out of the ground faster than mother nature is replenishing it with our rainfall.
40 % of Florida’s water use goes to agricultural interests to irrigate crops and farmland. 37 % is used by homes for their water use. About half of the water that homeowners use is spent watering their lawns. Florida needs to come up with a new strategy to supply the fresh water needs of all Floridians in the future. State water managers, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency has been on an ambitious program over the past twenty years to restore the wetlands that use to cover South Florida before we started the dredging, building of canals and urbanization that swept Florida during the 20th century.
One project that is in the works to store water coming from Lake Okeechobee and purify it before it is released down the Caloosahatchee River is a water basin called C-43. C-43 will hold billions of gallons of water tainted with phosphorous and nitrogen from the farms, lawns and mining operations in central and northern Florida. The water will be diverted to the water basin and the water will be filtered by plants and others methods before it is released down river. The Kissimmee River which delivers much of the water flow to Lake Okeechobee has been partly restored to a meandering river with floodplains that hold excess water. Floodplains hold water near streams and rivers and recharge the aquifers that provide refuge and habitat for wildlife. Farmers have also helped to recharge aquifers by storing water on their property instead of draining it through canals.
Voters in Florida passed a law called Amendment 1 which requires the state to buy undisturbed land for preservation. This law and previous moves by counties and the state to preserve land for water supplies is a smart move to provide for our water resource needs in the future.
Some information for this post came from an article published in the Ft. Myers News Press, “Water, water everywhere in Florida but whose is it ?”. July 20, 2015 and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, CHNEP.org summer issue volume 19, issue 2.
click on image for larger picture Stormwater Treatment Area One West
The South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers are moving water out of Lake Okeechobee and into large retention areas that serve to filter the water of nutrients before it is released into the Everglades. Storm Water Treatment Area # 1 West which holds 6,500 acres of water is one of many of these retention areas. It is located southeast of Lake Okeechobee and is designed to keep the lake at safe levels for flood control purposes and to help clean the water before it is released into the Everglades. Theses treatment areas can hold billions of gallons of water. Aquatic plants in the treatment areas help to remove harmful nutrients and pollutants from the water. The SFWMD and USACE also use WCA’s or Water Conservation Area’s to hold large quantities of water for purposes such as flood control, drinking water supplies, agricultural irrigation and Everglades restoration. Sending lake water to these places also lessens the amount of Okeechobee water that is released down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie waterways which helps to keep these estuaries clean. From Nov. 1, 2014 through Feb. 2, 2015, the South Florida Water Management District moved approximately 131 billion gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee to some of these storm water retention areas and water conservation areas. You can see the water retention and conservation areas from ariel views at the South Florida Water Management District website.
Picture courtesy of South Florida Water Management District
The Ft. Myers News-Press ran an editorial yesterday May 18th, 2014 titled “Enormous Water Puzzle Needs Our Total Effort.” The editor lists the steps that South Florida needs to take in order to clean up the water flows that come our way when Lake Okeechobee releases billions of gallons of dirty water when Lake Okeechobee levels get too high. Huge water discharges occur going west into the Caloosahatchee River and east to the St. Lucie River which turns healthy clear water into murky dark water. This murky dark water turns our pristine clean beaches, rivers and bays into foul looking and polluted areas. The ultimate goal of the Everglades Restoration Plan is to restore the historic flows of water southward towards the Everglades instead of storing it in Lake Okeechobee. The News Press editor points out the steps needed to accomplish this as a series of steps like putting the pieces of a large puzzle together. The puzzle pieces include acquiring land south of Lake O to store large quantities of water, establishing other storage reservoirs to hold and clean water, constructing a 2.6 mile flow way under U.S. 41 to allow water to continue flowing south and many other projects. Our state legislators approved funds to create water reservoirs called C-43 and C-44 that will hold billions of gallons of water. The South Florida Water Management District is one of our state agencies involved in cleanup and restoration projects.