Restoring the Northern Everglades

Historical changes in drainage flow.

As urban and agricultural development has progressed over the past century, drainage, irrigation, flood-control, and other water-control projects have transformed south Florida. While generating economic growth, these changes have also resulted in the degradation of water quality and flow and the loss of wildlife habitat for migratory waterfowl, wading birds, and a variety of threatened and endangered plant and animal species.

Once the "liquid heart" of the Everglades ecosystem, water drained from Lake Okeechobee’s vast 4 mil acre watershed and flowed slowly down through the southern Everglades. The extensive water- and land-use changes have truncated historic water flows, fragmented lands, threatened vulnerable species, and sent water polluted by excessive nutrients into downstream rivers, lakes, wetlands, and canals.

Caloosahatchee algae bloom 2008.
© Audubon Florida
Caloosahatchee algae bloom 2008.

As there is not sufficient storage in the Northern Everglades for the rainwater that falls during the rainy season in May through November it is currently channeled into a manmade system that funnels it off the landscape as quickly as possible, with much of it ending up in the ocean.

As a result of the massive drainage, it is estimated that an additional 1,000,000 acre feet of water storage is needed in the Northern Everglades.

Unnatural lake level fluctuations caused by extensive drainage into Lake Okeechobee causes the loss of critical fish spawning areas and wading bird habitat. During periods of high rainfall, nutrient-laden freshwater from Lake Okeechobee is pumped to the ocean through canals to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, where it contributes to changes in the salt water regime, algal blooms and water quality conditions that are both unsightly and can be detrimental to marine life in the estuaries.

Meanwhile, freshwater that used to replenish the Everglades ecosystem is being diverted towards the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, the Everglades National Park is only receiving a fraction of the water it needs, and much of that is highly polluted causing further loss of habitat for endangered species of plants and animals.

This is a tremendous loss for people and nature.

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