Or in other words, it’s going to flow where it wants to flow. Except in the Everglades at spots like this where with pumps and gates we tell the water when and where it can and cannot flow and by how much. As primordial a landscape as the Everglades appears to be (with its ancient alligators and horizon-to-horizon flooded expanse, don’t mistaken that with being completely wild and free. Concrete structures and pumps guard its perimeter and dole out its water in a system that’s so complex that even a well seasoned hydrologist like me is sometimes left scratching his head. Not that I won’t eventually figure it out, and usually just in time for another mystery to unfold.
Everglades Restoration in action at the S-356 and S-334
Take for example the S-356 (foreground) and S-334 (background) control point that I drove by at twilight the other day. The S-356 was busy back-pumping water from the Miami side of the levee back into the Everglades. It’s destination: To one of the three new bridges. There was a side of me that wanted to launch a canoe and follow the water to its final flow path. But I had places to be and people to meet, and so except for taking this photo I was on my way east and south towards the Keys.
Looking west towards the bridges that feed NE Shark River Slough
My beef is this: People drive on State Road 29 all the time thinking it’s just another country road. But how could they not? All anybody knows it by is the stand-alone and rather non-descript alphanumeric code — SR29.
The road is greatly underappreciated, and a missed opportunity in my book. Consider for example that it cuts through the heart of the Big Cypress Swamp, straddling two of the region’s most famous strands (i.e. Fakahatchee and Deep lake Strands). And did you know it passes right by Deep Lake, one of South Florida’s most iconic natural ponds? The Lake in fact was the road’s original destination … before it got extended north. And here’s what bugs me most about non-descript SR29: it completely severs flows to the crown jewel of the Big Cypress ecosystem — Fakahatchee Strand.
Call me a dreamer, but in my opinion a name change (i.e. rebranding) to the road could be the first step (i.e. a catalyst) to getting it fixed. How does Fakahatchee Freeway or Deep Lake Road sound?
Animated chart showing current year discharge rates compared to the recent (post 1993) and distant (pre 1993) past
But that’s only the case if you compare what you see now to what we’ve seen in the past thirty years, i.e. the recent past. I like to say that everyone has a “born on date” for understanding places. The Big Cypress Swamp for example was born five to six thousand years ago, but I didn’t arrive until 1998. So for me, in a way that was my personal “born on” date. The only change I know is what’s happened after I arrived.
So yes, Silver Spring has been flowing bountifully this past month and year compared to the recent past. But a deeper look at the historic record shows that today’s same “high” discharge rate is actually just “normal” compared to the sixty year span from 1932 to 1992.
Thus the question: Can Silver Spring’s past glory be reclaimed? And if so, how? The first step is protecting what we have.
Answer: More than any other structure in the Everglades, or anywhere for that matter. The reason? Probably its proximity explains it best. I drive by it or near it all the time, and what kind of hydrologist would I be if I didn’t periodically stop and give it a look? But there’s more to it, too. Yes, it’s just a monolith of concrete, really nothing to write home about at first glance — but don’t you think it has an art deco look? US Army Corps structures are a study in good engineering, too. They are impeccably maintained and sturdily built. Then there is the surrounding scenery, too.
But most of all for me it’s this: The S-12A was my introduction to the Everglades. I happened upon it by myself in my first month on the job in the structureless realm of Big Cypress National Preserve. The above monolith of concrete was my gateway into the Everglades at the same time it was a giant concrete sphinx.
As for the riddle of the Everglades, every time I stop by the S-12A I pat at its concrete hulk and say under my breath. “Someday, someday we’ll figure it all out.”
Actually, that’s incorrect. In addition to the Park, it also flows into the southeast corner of Big Cypress National Preserve. To the west of Shark River Slough, separated by Rattlesnake Ridge, is another flow way called Lostmans Slough. Long ago, when the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project was being designed, there were plans to extend the L-28 ten miles south and another ten miles west, or basically, short circuit water around Lostmans Slough. Fortunately, that never came to fore. But, we can’t forget, just like Shark River Slough needs its water, so does Lostmans Slough as well. This year it didn’t get much. As you can see in the chart above, the S-12A was barely opened at all.
The S-12s consist of four structures in total: A, B, C and D. The structures look the same and are spaced about 3 miles apart. To me, whenever I drive by it, I always wonder what it would say if it could speak. The above calendar chart provides a possible translation.
Video of the S-343B and S-12A
One last thing about this structure: I also regard it as a mile marker. The L-28 is the modern-day boundary between the Everglades and Big Cypress ecosystems, but it’s hidden behind a hedgerow of trees. The S-12A is impossible to miss, as is the giant grove of cypress trees called Big Cypress National Preserve as you continue west.
Of discharge through all the S12s (A, B, C and D).
These are the four monolithic concrete structures you drive by on the Tamiami Trail between the midpoint of the Everglades (i.e. as demarked by the S-333 and the L-67) and the eastern entrance into Big Cypress National Preserve (i.e. also known as 40 Mile Bend). In recent years, with the installation of the 3 new bridges (and other features) closer to Miami to the east, the rules governing discharge of water through the S-12s has been modified to help steer more of the Park’s water into the main thalweg commonly called Northeast Shark River Slough.
Thalweg is just a fancy way of saying “the main channel of a stream.” Usually a riparian term, I like using it for sloughs and strands, too. For example, Roberts Lakes Strand is over a mile wide, but its primary thalweg is a quarter mile, even less.
The beef with the S-12s is that, while they were a victory to the National Park Service at the time they were built in the 1960s (i.e. helping the Park get a foot in the door of securing an upstream water right), they were located on a higher part of the Everglades. Also factoring in was the Park’s 1988 expansion to include Northeast Shark River Slough. That’s where and why the new bridges to the east are so important. They are not only located in the lower spot, they are longer — thus allowing the water to spread out. At least that’s the theory.
If I had a vote or could throw my hat into the mix (is that a saying?), I’d like to go on the record as speculating that larger bridges would be good for Big Cypress National Preserve, too. I know it’s a little more expensive, but the water, trees, alligators and wading birds would love it!
In this original song, singer/songwriter Bobby Angel explores the cross roads between the idealism of youth and the harsh realities of life, and in particular our relationship with nature. About those dreams: Sometimes those dreams inspire, other times they haunt. And each sunset is a promise to make it right the next day.
Stay on after the song to hear an interview with the artist.