Moving Water to a Solution in Florida

Map of the Everglades area. SOURCE: Kmusser/
Map of the Everglades area. SOURCE: Kmusser/

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the 1920s, most chatter around Florida was about Lake Okeechobee flooding and resulting deaths, as well as images of commerce. This prompted Stuart and Fort Myers to demand that the Army Corp connect their cities to Lake Okeechobee. The west coast wanted to be connected to the railroad and the east coast wanted an inland port. The flood of 1928 killed 2,500 people and the final nail in the free flowing River of Grass was the 1947 flood that brought us the “Ditch” to replace the Kissimmee River Basin’s Oxbows.

The population has increased from 10 million in the 1990s to just over 20 million now, our wetlands have decreased by 40% and our pollution is out of control. Since the Kissimmee Basin has been turned into the Ditch, water levels in those areas have been lower from 60 inches down to 42 inches. Each inch of elevation change in the upper basin represents 6 inches of corresponding change in Lake Okeechobee. In 2013, 1.6 million acre feet of water was discharged to protect the levee. 1.6 million acre feet translate to 36 inches of change in elevation. And lastly, water coming from the headwaters near Ocala to the opening of Lake Okeechobee reaches a phosphorus level of between 200 to 400 parts per billion. And equal distance south of the mouth, water quality is mandated to be 10 parts per billion phosphorus.

While we wait for Federal CERP and CEPP projects to be completed by 2035’ish, it must be noted that there was no consideration for what to do with excess water except to continue to discharge; however, even when those projects are completed and up and running, they will only address 27% of the 1.6 million acre feet. Therefore, based on the above stated constraints, One Florida supports the concepts of:

  • Reducing the amount of water flowing from the upper chain of Lake/Kissimmee Basin by holding an additional 2 inches of water there.
  •  Clean water from the source and as if flows south to greatly reduce pollution.
  •  Increase storage in Lake Okeechobee by dredging Lake Okeechobee’s navigation channels so water could be held as low as 12 feet and still have 7 foot channels as required.
  •  Build reservoirs, retention areas, water farms from Ocala to the Lake, on the east and west as well as to the south to hold water for: future drinking water needs, agriculture needs in event of droughts, reduce the pressure on Lake Okeechobee, stop discharges and feed the Everglades with properly cleaned water when needed.

Although considered a temporary approach, as there are no considerations for the other 73% of the 1.6 million acre feet of 2013 between now and 2035 or thereafter. Senator Nelson, the University of Florida Water Institute, the 16 County Collaborative, The Florida Legislature and scientists around the state support these concepts as very possible solutions to our discharges.

Waiting until water gets south to store it is not a proper consideration. Sometimes it rains where you want to store the water. Having another and alternative location is prudent. Waiting until water gets a few miles away from the Everglades to clean it is not in the best interest of this natural wonder. Attempting to fine one industry for a century of state-wide polluting of all industries, is a stalling tactic that will only delay and increase costs and prove impossible to obtain.

There are those who claim this is just a political problem. No it is ‘Lackawanna.’ The simple approach is reducing the flow, clean as it goes and send clean water south.

Channelizing the Kissimmee River, 1965. SOURCE: Florida Center for Environmental Studies/FAU.
Channelizing the Kissimmee River, 1965. SOURCE: Florida Center for Environmental Studies/FAU.