tidal

Does tidal mean salty?
Usually but not always

Tidal waters are usually synonymous …

With some degree of saltiness.

A very low tide on Naples Beach, FL

At Naples Beach, where the tidal range is under three feet, you can usually count on 35 parts per thousand worth of sodium. Or in other words, salty to the taste. Just a mile inland the canals are fresh at under 1 part per thousand. In between, the water is what we call brackish.

Estuaries are where fresh and salt waters mix. How much they mix is usually a combination of the seasonal influx of freshwater — either by direct rain, ground water discharge or a river or creek — and the twice-daily waxing and waning of low and high tides.

beach and sand dollars
Tidal waters support an abundance of life

Saltwater intrusion is the term given to situations where canals, over-pumping or other diversionary drainage works open the door for more saltwater to infiltrate into the naturally freshwater zone. Saltwater intrusion can be solved with engineering to a degree, including saltwater barriers, moving or reducing ground water pumpage and other water works.

Too much freshwater can pose a problem for estuaries, too, such as at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Once a meandering coastal creek, over the past 150 years it has been lengthened and straightened into a sizeable canal. Today, the Caloosahatchee Canal (C-43) serves as the main release valve for spilling flood waters from the Big Lake to the coast, often overwhelming the downstream seagrasses and bivalves and harming the estuaries overall health.

Other times, freshwater will not drain after a storm because high tidal waters causes it to back up. This effect can be especially pronounced during tropical storms that major deluges coincide with high tide stands.

Nutrient enrichment from freshwaters can lead to algal blooms

In short, tidal waters are interesting from a number of standpoints, both for their seasonal and daily changes in their salinity, flow direction and magnitude.

tidal

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cultural waters

A River Runs Through Us
Water is a part of who we are

How central is water …

In our lives?

Water is at the heart of who we are

Probably no other substance, baring oxygen and carbon, do we rely on more. We need oxygen to breath, chains of carbon to eat and water to drink. But water is a lot more than just subsidence. It courses through every element of our lives. A topic of some of the greatest art and the earth’s most scenic spots, water is the foundation of our collective identify and connection to nature. And I’m not talking about our ecologic connection. People are attracted to water in all its forms. Water is both nurturing and at times, even a threat. But most of all it is ubiquitous in our lives as individuals and a society, from a deeply-woven multidisciplinary sense.

You can’t be a good historian without also understanding water. Ecologists ignore water at their own risk. Theologians of all creeds embrace the sacred nature of the substance. Recreation and water go hand in hand. Water is the great shaper of our lives, both by force and us trying to harness the bounty it can bring, or the plague of famine its absence may forebode.

We are attracted to waters at sunset

We pray for rain to fall as much as we pray for the rain to stop when its flood waters crest against the levees we’ve built to hold it back.

In sum, water is more than a sum of its parts. It’s ubiquitous in all aspects of our lives and we identify as individuals and citizens of the earth.

cultural waters

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Weather Drop

Climate trips up weather
Why climate is the new weather

Climate used to be a stodgy subject:

It stayed static while weather did all the acrobatics.

Do old rules still apply?

No longer! We know that the earth is warming, but from there and what it means for climates is anyone’s guess. To be clear, don’t count on New England to turn into the tropics anytime soon. What we can say is that we can no longer rely on the past as an exact blueprint of what’s about to unfold on the forecast next. Sure, you could call that weather, but really weather takes its cues from the larger climactic stew.

There’s an old saying: Climate is what we expect and weather is what we get. More and more we’re not sure what to expect and weather is a complete surprise, or nothing that we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

So goes climate, so goes local weather

A changing climate is also greatly misunderstood. Increases in greenhouse gases, have caused global temperatures to rise. In turn, that’s caused a net decrease in glacial ice and thermal expansion of the earth’s oceanic waters; or in other words – sea level rise. About sea level rise: It’s been happening starting at the peak of the last ice age, some 17,000 years, albeit very slowly (like a snail) — not on the scale of the current and projected modern-day frog leap.

In geologic times, climate has changed, both regionally and planet-wide. And climate is affected by oceanic currents, position relative to nearby land and water masses and winds as much as it is by latitude and altitude.

Somewhere the butterfly is flapping its wings

In sum, meteorologists are better than ever at forecasting the weather. Just don’t expect the bookends of the climactic record (recent past) to be an arbiter for what type of weather we may (or may not) get next.

Weather Drop

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ecology

Ecology of water
Nature and water go hand in hand

How many cups of water should you drink per day?

Answer: You should drink to your thirst.

Water drives the pattern of trees in the swamp

Nature is the same way. It needs water in all its forms, and cannot live healthily without it. Look no further than a potted plant as proof. As homeowners, we are stewards to keeping those plants alive, and thriving. Failure to water them causes them to shrivel up and die.

Now think about nature on a grander scale. It’s dependence on the water cycle and water availability in all its forms is profound. How many times after a heavy summer deluge have you heard the frogs chirp. Or watched a deer take sip of water at the edge of nearby lake.

Water also helps the base of the swamp’s food web called periphyton to form

Water and nature go hand in hand. Being in tune with one means being in tune with the other. To be a hydrologist you have to also be a bit of a botanist, a geologist, an ecologist, a meteorologist, a climatologist, a wildlife biologist, a chemist … and the list goes on.

Water is inherently multidisciplinary. It helps us understand natural connections, great and small.

ecology

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water table

Setting the Water Table
A good kitchen table discussion about the water

Everyone loves the water …

But what’s the best way to get in touch with it?

table
Kitchen Table Hydrology

That’s where the water table comes in. And no, I’m not talking about sitting around a table made of water or solid ice. I’m talking about being knowledgeable of where the water table is at in the places it matters and the water bodies we aim to fix.

The water table is a conversation starter for a range of water topics

What is the water table? It’s a layman term we give to the height of the surface of a water body. Most commonly it is used to describe the level of the underlying ground water. And unlike a river that moves fast (and in many streams at the rapid runs) you can actually see the water surface moving down in elevation like a run of stairsteps — the ground-water table is almost completely flat. The same can be said for most freshwater lakes and wetlands. The water table moves up and down, but also stays flat.

In the Big Cypress Swamp, there’s a little bit of a wrinkle. Over a very large scale, the land surface is slanted towards the coast. That causes the water table to slide every so slowly downhill in a phenomenon called sheet flow. If you’ve every watched a snail travel a great distance — that’s about it’s pace.

The water table never stays long in one spot

Finally, going back to the title of this post — Setting the Water Table — you can’t have a kitchen table discussion about the water without other parameters, too. Knowledge of flow rates, flooding duration, water depth, soil moisture and water quality composition go hand in hand in having a conversation about the water. But for our purposes, the water table is the best place to start.

As for the best drink to enjoy at the water table, I recommend water. The main course and dessert should also be water, too.

water table

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Watersheds of south Florida

Favorite watershed?
It's a tie!

It’s a tough question:

But for me it boils down to this …

I’ve found a lot of new friends in the swamp

The rose isn’t beautiful because it’s a rose, a rose is beautiful for the time you spent with it. For that reason, I would have to say I have two favorite watersheds. The first is Up North on the continent where I grew up in Maryland. And specifically Deer Creek, or maybe the Gun Powder River, too. The first feeds into the Susquehanna River and the second straight into the Chesapeake Bay. You can take a boy away from his childhood creek, but you can’t take the creek out of the boy. And no, that’s not because I got water in my ear. Although there is the story where I got submerged under the water at the rapids at King and Queen Seat. Even just thinking about Rocks State Park as I type pings at my heart with a deep sense of nostalgia.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve bonded with the Big Cypress Swamp in a way that rivals if not exceeds my childhood connection to Deer Creek. Partly that’s because I work there, and yes I specialize in the water, too. But it’s more to the story. The cypress trees and expanse of water and the swings between flood and drought. There’s a bit of magic in the Big Cypress unlike any other place that I’ve ever been.

Runners up are Cape Cod and the Sonoran Desert. And you guessed it, they are on my list because I spent time there, too.

Wherever you are, enjoy the watershed that you’re in. And do your part to help make it a better place. Our watersheds deserve the best.

Watersheds of south Florida

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water cycle

Very utilitarian cycle
Better than the seasons and calendar year

Not only is the water cycle fun …

It’s also very practical.

Everyone’s a winner with the water cycle

Think about it: The calendar year is fatally flawed. Its start in January falls in the middle of the winter dry season. True connoisseurs of the water year know that if you want to accurately track hydrologic happenings in south Florida you need to start in May with the onset of the summer rains and lump November through April into a single dry season tally — not split it into two like the calendar year slackers will want you to do.

Even worse: Nor do the four seasons jive with water cycles two major halves — it’s wet season and dry season. The summer wet season overlaps with one spring, three summer and one fall month. Meanwhile, the winter dry season is comprised by two fall, three winter and two spring months. Yes, I agree — it’s all messed up. That’s where the water cycle steps in to save the day.

In sum, the water cycle is just a great way to stay in tune with nature at large, and water resources stewardship, too. You can’t manage the water if you don’t have your finger on its pulse. That’s where water cycle awareness factors in the most. Even better: It’s free.

water cycle

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