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publications > poster > The Challenge of Water Management, The Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades System, Development and Drainage in the Lower East Coast

of Water Management

The Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades System-
Development & Drainage in the Lower East Coast

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The Challenge of Water Management  The Kissimmee - Okeechobee - Everglades System Development & Drainage in the Lower East CoastSection 1, pre-drainage, lower east coast of Florida, circa 1900Section 2, present Day, Lower East Coast of FloridaSection 3, interim Solution - Enhanced Water Supplies by Returning Storage to the System Section 4, long-term solution - Enhanced Water Supplies by Reconnection of Coastal and Interior Systemsphoto of a satellite imageimages of historic miami and a comparative photoGraph showing variation from the Average rainfall Miami Airport and Miami City, 1914 - 1995 and photos of a flooded neighborhood and dry cracked earth

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Above Poster produced by The South Florida Water Management District 

of Water Management

The Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades System-
Development & Drainage in the Lower East Coast

In it's natural state, central and south Florida is a very wet place. Average yearly rainfall ranges from 53 - 60 inches. The landscape of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades (greater Everglades) system was designed by nature to hold water. An eastern coastal ridge and a western inland ridge together formed a shallow valley which kept most rainfall within the Everglades. Within that system, gradual decreases in the land's elevation moved water from north to south. From central Florida's Chain of Lakes water flowed through the Kissimmee River Valley to Lake Okeechobee.Water flowed south from Lake Okeechobee in a broad 60-mile wide "river" over the flat grasslands of the Everglades, eventually emptying into Florida Bay. That system covered approximately four million acres. Drainage for suburban and agricultural development has reduced the size of this natural system by half. Most of the cities and farms which today are home to close to six million people are on lands which were once a part of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system. The drainage which made this development possible reshaped the landscape, redirected the flow of water throughout the region, and radically reduced the system's ability to store and to cleanse freshwater.

1. Pre-Drainage - Lower East Coast of Florida Circa 1900

Up until the early 1900s, the natural system remained dominant. Natural cycles of rainfall and hurricanes, drought and fire kept development restricted to the highlands of the coastal ridge. Fewer than 100,000 people lived in Florida, only a small percentage in central and south Florida.

image showing pre drainage in the lower east coast of Florida circa 1900Inland, lower land levels kept rainfall most of which fell west of the coastal ridge, within the wetlands of the Everglades - where it could seep through the ground and recharge the Biscayne Aquifer. This groundwater recharge was so powerful and productive that early tourists photographed freshwater springs in Biscayne Bay! The Biscayne Aquifer is one of the most productive water producers in the world, and is south Florida's primary source of water. Some 1,200 to 1,600 feet below the Biscayne Aquifer is the Floridan Aquifer, separated by a confining layer of dense rock. The Floridan Aquifer spans the state and is usually too salty to drink in the lower east coast.

Surface flows to the east like the Miami River or Hillsboro Rivers flowed through the low gaps in the eastern coastal ridge. Early state and private drainage projects deepened these natural gaps and dug small canals to begin draining the Everglades. Back-to-back hurricanes struck south Florida in 1947 flooding more than three million acres of land for months! Residents called on the US Congress for help. The Corps of Engineers was directed to build a federal water control system to prevent catastrophic flooding and Further open up for agricultural and urban development in the post-World War II boom era.

2. Present Day - Lower East Coast of Florida

The system designed by the Corps of Engineers and Southern Florida Flood Control District, was immensely successful! With 1,800 miles of canals and levees and hundreds of flood gates, pump stations, etc., it is one of the world's largest public works projects.

image showing present day lower east coast of FloridaDesigned to meet the needs of a population of about two million people by the year 2000, today this system is providing drainage and water supply protection for a population nearly three times that estimate. But the systems efficiency had some unfortunate effects.

The amount of rain we receive has not changed. And most rain still falls west of the coastal ridge. But to provide surface drainage, each year close to two million acre-feet of water is moved through canals to the estuaries of the Everglades and the Biscayne Bay Aquifer. That's enough water to meet all of the need of Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties for two years!. That lost water with out increasing consumption of groundwater means that coastal wellfields are now threatened by saltwater intrusion. To meet urban and agricultural needs, we have had to move wellfields inland. The east coast protective levee, built to keep water in the Everglades from overflowing the coastal drainage system, has seen suburban development become its neighbor. Water once stored within the Everglades is now seeping through eastward, drawn into the water table now lowered to accommodate this westward growth.

With development, we have evolved from a state with seemingly unlimited land and water to a region where water shortages are becoming more commonplace. This water shortage threatens future development as well as natural systems. Compounding this problem, excess freshwater flows to estuaries necessary to provide continuing drainage are also causing water quality problems in those estuaries. To solve these problems and achieve a sustainable level of growth, there are interim and long-term solutions.

3. Interim Solution - Enhanced Water Supplies by Returning Storage to the System

The South Florida Water Management District remains committed to providing drainage to accommodate growth. However, we plan to meet drainage needs by capturing and storing stormwater now dumped into our estuaries.

image showing enhanced water supplies by returning storage to the system A lot of water will still have to be moved to tide, but some will be moved west, into surface Water Preserve Areas. This water can also be cleaned of pollution from suburban lawns and shopping centers by better treatment before it enters canals. While it is held in these water Preserve Areas, it will help to recharge wellfields and replenish water in the Everglades.

Some water can also be stored as giant bubbles of freshwater deep in the brackish Floridan Aquifer for recovery during droughts (Aquifer Storage and Recovery). We can expect to restore coastal wellfields like those in downtown Miami, but we will be able to protect more interior wellfields. Initiatives like Eastward Ho, where new development is encouraged toward the coastal ridge where development is already established, will also help increase water shortage in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

4. Long-Term Solution - Enhanced Water Supplies by Reconnecting Coastal and Interior Ecosystems      

image showing enhanced water supplies by reconnection of coastal and interior systemsTo provide a long-term solution to water shortage and water quality problems, in addition to acquiring undeveloped western land for water storage, we plan to redesign many of the existing canals so that they better mimic natural waterways. Where there once were transverse glades through the coastal ridge, drainage canals will be reconfigured to function as greenways and flowways. These wider more naturally configured waterways will reconnect the severed links between natural systems, improve water quality, provide a host of recreational opportunities, and allow us to move even more larger volumes of water to Water Preserve Areas and the Everglades.

With land acquisition and construction costs, implementing increased water storage and reconnections of coastal and estuarine systems could cost from $3 - 5 billion over 20 years. Solutions like desalination are far more expensive. Without these solutions, we will not be able to provide the water needed for the estimated population of 13 million expected by the year 2050 in our region. We are also likely to suffer other losses without these solutions, Commercial and recreational fishing add billions to our local economy. Tourism and our overall quality of life are equally dependent on healthy ecosystems from the heartland of the interior to the populated coasts.

Though most of our region gets an average of 53-60 inches of rainfall a year (Miami's average is 58 inches), it's important to understand that we seldom see that "average" rainfall. Rainfall varies greatly from year to year and from one part of the region to another. The chart below shows actual rainfall from 1914 to 1995 at the Miami Airport and the city of Miami. Actual rainfall varies from more than 80 inches to less than 35 inches. That's 22 to 23 inches more and less than the mythical "average" of 58 inches. Neither extreme makes south Florida residents happy.

graph showing variation from the average rainfall Miami Airport and Miami City, 1914 - 1995

The flooding photo (below) is of a neighborhood in Northern Palm Beach County in 1995, where close to 20 inches of rain fell over a period of about 24 hours! This happened in October, a month when many parts of the region are beginning to prepare for the dry season.

photo of flooded neighborhood in Northern Palm Beach County

(left) The parched, cracked earth photo is evidence of several years of below average rainfall, and the demand from cities and farms which resulted in month after month of restrictions on irrigation and water use. The periodic reoccurrence of low rainfall for several years in a row (early 60s, early 70s, late 80s) is the ultimate stress for the water management system.

Miami River 1913 (below)
photo of Miami River, 1913

These two photos show views of the same place along the Miami River, just east of NW 27th Avenue in Miami. The view is toward the west-northwest with the 27th Avenue bridge over the north of the Miami River on the right. In the 1913 photo above, you can see the linear north-south tree islands of the Everglades. In the 1997 photo below, these tree islands have been replaced by Miami International Airport, Miami Springs and Hialeah.

photo showing the miami river in 1997
Miami River 1997 (above)

photo of cracked dry earth

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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM (KP)