SRWMD

Home of the Suwannee River and all the springs that feed it and upstream Okefenokee Swamp, the river eventually meanders to Florida’s Big Bend Gulf Coast. | Florida’s water districts | Panhandle | Suwannee | St Johns | Southwest | South Florida | Estuaries and coast | Water bodies | Aquifers

Summer’s plateau?
And why the swamp isn't as low as it seems

Starting in late May …

South Florida’s air temperatures plateau.

This hydrograph compares air temperatures in Naples and Gainesville, Florida. Each graph shows the normal (light gray) and record (dark gray) statistics in the background. Despite Gainesville getting colder during the winter, both places lock into the “summer plateau” mode come the end of May. How long will it last? Answer: Into September for Gainesville, and through most of October for south Florida.

By plateau, I mean they flatline, or stay steady, at an elevated height. That height is expressed in two numbers: A daytime high in the high 80s and the nighttime low in the low seventies. So remember that the next time you’re standing knee deep in the summer swamp looking in the distance at a giant mountainous cloud (or range of mountainous clouds) rising up and approaching.

Driving into the cloud on a plateau-like levee called the Tamiami Trail

The swamp isn’t as low as it seems, but rather a summer plateau that gives us expansive views of the cumulonimbus clouds as they rise.

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Swamp History: 10,000 years ago, south Florida was in fact a peninsula, both high and dry and perched 350 feet above sea level.

Best Water Management Logo in Florida?
And the winner is (drum roll please) ...

You don’t know how difficult logos can be …

Until you try to make one yourself.

Florida’s five districts, plus the agency that unites them all

And now imagine having to make one that measures up to four other like organizations, and also resonates with the greater public interest it serves. Such is the challenge for Florida’s five water management districts. Water management logos are a lot like state flags. They contain subtleties and historical nuances that only an student of the genre or a long time local could fully understand. And I would imagine that each logo has evolved over the years. For all I know, as I type, one of the districts may be tweaking (or completely reinventing) its design. If I had to guess, I would say that the Suwannee’s is the most recently modified, in part because it’s such a departure from the rest — it doesn’t have a state map and in general is more minimalistic than the rest.

Things I like about each one: (1) for Northwest Florida it’s the grove of cypress and stand of long-leaf pine, (2) the Suwannee is its simplicity (and clarity) of color and words, (3) the St Johns River has a decidedly nautical feel, which probably makes sense given how far inland (161 miles from its mouth), (4) for Southwest Florida it has to be the background waves of the gulf, and how it reaffirms that the entire basin feeds the downstream estuaries, and (5) for south Florida is has to be the sun rays reaching out into an expansive yet cloudless sky (I can only assume the river is the Kissimmee).

Last but not least is the sixth: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It has general oversight over all five districts. As for which logo is the best, I think they are all interesting in their own ways. Which one I like best might depend on the day, or what district I live.

Aren’t our watersheds a little bit like sports teams? They bring us together as a community to root for the same cause and rally around the same logo. What’s your favorite logo, and why?

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Chronology: The South Florida Water Management District is the oldest of the five, forming in 1949, with the others following in 1977 as a result of the Water Resources Act signed into law by the Florida legislature in 1972.

Way (way way) down
River drops down into "creek mode"

No matter how you look at it:

Florida’s Suwannee River had a record low year.

Hydrographs help us better understand the present

Take for example discharge, the top hydrograph.

Do you see where it literally “dropped off the chart” for much of 2011?

While the multi-colored hydrograph at the top may appear to be difficult to read at first, I would argue that anything less is an incomplete painting at best. The sharp blue line is current discharge. However, a current condition is insufficient alone if it not painted relative to historical statistics and ecological thresholds that define it. That’s what the background color coding and shading provide. Not only can you see where the river has been for the past year and a half, you can also look ahead  to how far waters need to climb to make it back up to a normal spring. Now lets move to the bar chart at the bottom. It shows annual discharge volume of the Suwannee (as measured at Ellaville) from 1940 to present in millions of acre feet per year. 2011 is the tiny bar on the far right which, if you look back in time, is the lowest flow year going back more than sixty years.

Why use Ellaville as the definite site?

I locked in on Ellaville because it reaches so far back in time.

This calendar chart transports us back into deep time

The calendar chart above is plotted in the same color scheme as the hydrograph at the top. Red triangles indicate times of very low flow (under 1,000 cubic feet per second). As you can see, there is quite a long string of those for 2011. You may also note that the river’s traditional spring peak has been lower (and delayed) in recent years in comparison to the past few decades.

So why is the Suwannee River so low?

Is a climactic shift in play? Or was the lingering effects of a La Niña desiccated spring? Maybe ground-water pumping plays a role? This data set is a good start, but we would  need more to know for sure.