Wetting front in the Big Cypress retreats to deepest wetlands
SFL Weekly Watersheds Summary: Feb 19-25

WEATHER. Dry conditions prevailed across the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades and the Big Cypress areas for the past week.

BIG CYPRESS. After a month of holding steady, preserve-wide water levels have recommenced their downward march of the dry season. Historically, water levels in the preserve drop to their dry-season nadir in the later part of May, and then start to rebound in response to the onset of the wet season rains. That means we still have about 10-12 weeks of dry season ahead of us. Looking back in the rear-view mirror, its been almost 4 months since the wetting front dropped below our hydric pineland habitats in mid October. Its been about 2 months since the wetting front dropped below our wet prairies in mid December. And it was just last week that the wetting front finally dropped below most of the tall cypress habitat in the preserve. Currently, the wetting front has dropped into the our deepest swamp forest and marsh habitats, with surface water currently pooling a few inches deep in those wetlands. Look for those wetlands to go dry sometime in March if the drying trend continues. Once that occurs, the final remnants of this year’s sheetflow season will have retreated to our isolated pools of natural refugia, which also eventually go dry by April and May, plus in addition to our canals and borrow pits, which typically hold water all year long.

Historically speaking, preserve-wide water levels are currently 6 inches below our 5-year average for late February, and 10 inches below late February of last year. From the perspective of our dry season calendar, current water levels have dropped to the same level now that they usually do not reach until the start of April. That means that our dry season clock is about 30 days ahead of schedule in terms of our 5-year average. Look for an earlier and more prolonged dry down to occur this year unless winter an spring rains start playing more of a role.

LAKE O. Current lake stage is about 11.25 ft msl. That places current lake stage at about 4 ft below late February of last year, about 4 ft below the 5-year late February average, and about 9 inches above late February of the 2001 drought year. Its now been 10.5 months in a row that lake stage has been below the level of the lake’s interior wetlands.

EVERGLADES. Regulatory stage in 3A is currently about 9 inches below late February of last year, and 6 inches below the 5-year average for late February. The wetting front in southern 3A is currently in the bayhead landscape type, which means that water depths as measured from the bottom of the slough are just under 2 ft deep. Last year, water depths did not drop that low in southern 3A until early April. In comparison, there is currently under a third a foot of water in northern 3A (as measured from the base of its sloughs). And bayhead habitat in northern 3A went dry in mid November, about 3.5 months earlier than in southern 3A.

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