CHNEP

Formerly known as the Charlotte Harbor NEP, it rebranded as the “Coastal and Heartland” NEP to better depict the true extent of its watershed and its connection to downstream coastal estuairies. | Estuaries and coast | Coastal and Heartland | Indian River Lagoon | Apalachicola | Near St Augustine | Rookery Bay | Tampa and Sarasota Bays | Florida’s water districts | Water bodies | Aquifers

Intro - Watershed to estuary

How the Lee Island Coast finally got its due

By Robert V. Sobczak

Map of the Coastal and Heartland NEP

You can't fix a problem if you spend 100 percent of your time on half the problem, or if you focus on the symptoms and not the underlying cause. Although I wasn't in the boardroom myself, I can only assume that was the thinking when they rebranded and expanded Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Partnership (NEP) to the Coastal and Heartland NEP and also added on the Caloosahatchee Watershed. Looking at the map it makes complete sense. Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee Estuary are contiguous and quite complex. Stewardship of the estuary goes hand in hand with connecting it to the upstream watersheds that bring the freshwater in. Of course at the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee its a little complicated by Lake Okeechobee, and really from there, do you include the entire Lake, the Kissimmee River, Fisheating Creek and Taylor Slough? Probably (actually definitely), as the boundary is big enough and finally captures the bounds for guiding stewardship on the land that feeds the Lee Island Coast.

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Caloosahatchee meets Mississippi
And how the two compare

The Caloosahatchee is …

The king of freshwater flows in South Florida.

Comparison of annual freshwater discharge from the Caloosahatchee (red), Apalachicola (dark green) and Mississippi River (light green)

Currently flowing at around 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), it’s the single highest flowing point in the Greater Everglades. But not only is that flow rate dwarfed by the 17,000 cfs discharging out the mainstem of north Florida’s Apalachicola River, both are dwarfed by the nearly 700,000 cfs discharging from the Mississippi River into the Gulf. How much is 700,000 cfs … in more relatable lay audience terms? Answer: Every year, on average, the Mississippi River discharges about 100 Lake Okeechobee’s worth of freshwater into the Gulf. Note: The calculation is based on the assumption of a Lake stand of 15 ft above seas level, or the top of the Lake’s interior-levee littoral zone at which time its water volume is around 4 million acre feet. On average, the Caloosahatchee discharges about a quarter Lake Okeechobee volume worth of freshwater into the Gulf per year. Of course in the case of both, it’s just not water quantity — water quality matters, too, if not the most.

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Tidbit: The Mississippi starts its 2,552 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico at Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, as photographed in 2014.

Lake not the blame (this time)
Closed gate but rising flows downstream?

With The Lake near its annual low …

And the Kissimmee River at a similar ebb:

A semi-complicated hydrograph summarizing some key indices for Lake Okeechobee over the past two years, including rainfall, lake stage, inflows from the Kissimmee River and discharge through the S-79. See the complete cheatsheet for the lake.

Why then have discharges down the Caloosahatchee River’s S-79 into the Estuary suddenly spiked to over 5,000 cfs, which in layman terms is around 34 Fenway Parks filled to the top of the 37.5 foot high Green Monster every day? Answer: Blame all the rain in the Caloosahatchee Watershed, not the Lake. The S-77 which controls Lake flows into the C-43 are closed, and is therefore recording no flow.

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Tidbit: At 13 feet above sea level, Lake Okeechobee is about 8 feet below the level it naturally overflowed its southern shore into the Everglades prior to drainage.

Second life of Kissengen Spring?
Search for the headwater source

The Peace River isn’t what it used to be.

For starters, its headwater source – Kissengen Spring – is gone.

Peace River’s then (1940-1955) and now (1995-2010)

The culprit?

Groundwater pumping associated with phosphate mining substantially lowered the water table in the 1950s which in turn reversed the direction of flow. No, the river didn’t start flowing north! By “reversed” I mean that the river isn’t recharged “up” from the groundwater any longer, but rather ends up leaking “down,” and quite prodigiously at times, into the aquifer instead.

Kissengen Spring flowed at 30 cubic feet per second (20 million gallons per day). That may not sound like much, but it was incredibly steady in the sense that it flowed all year round. That was particularly important during the seasonal spring drought when without it the Peace would run dry. It was its sole source of flow.

Peace River near Arcadia

The hydrograph above shows how in recent times the river routinely drops below 100 cfs, yet rarely did so when the spring was still intact. Work is underway to repair the river with an upstream reservoir called Hancock Lake and by strategically adding berms in the river bed to keep flow in the river from sinking down into the karst aquifer instead. (view article) The goal is to keep a minimum of 20-30 cfs in the river channel at all times.

Or in other words, replicate the flows of Kissengen Spring!

Balance or bias
More of the same for the Lake's main spillway

LORS is dead (i.e. the old regulation schedule),

Or about to die.

Green is good (i.e. the desired range)

In its place will step LOSOM

AKA Lake Okeechobee System Operation Manual.

In a nutshell: It will send more water down the Lake’s main release valve.

Or will it be too much of a good thing? Note: Can you see the major change that occurred with the implementation of LORS in 2008? Water is constantly flowing down the channel all months of the year. Presumably that (and more) will continue under LOSOM when it takes effect.

People on the west coast of south Florida often complain …

of an East Coast Bias when it comes to managing the Everglades water.

Or is this more a case of balancing competing needs?

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