Simple drawings that say a lot

water table

Optimal Lake Stage?
The answer has changed over time

Prior to drainage (pre-1882),

The optimal Lake stage was 22 feet above sea level.

Lake O cross section, then and now

That’s the level it naturally drained south into the Everglades downstream. In modern times, the question gets bogged down in a complexity of water management schema, stakeholder clout and the constraint of the Lake’s perimeter dike. No longer allowed to spread out, high waters are drained through a release valve to protect wetlands on the inside of the dike instead of replenishing the wetlands it used to feed to the south. The primary release valve is called the Caloosahatchee River, although technically to get to the main river stem (which is actually a widened canal called the C-43), water has to first drain through Three Mile Canal. Prior to drainage the natural river ended at Ft. Thompson Falls just upstream from present-day LaBelle and 20 miles from the Lake. Yes, it’s complicated, and muddled (and muddy). It’s called modern times.

The thing about the dike, and this has always been the case:

It was built to control water on outside, not inside, its bounds.

Best (and worst) decade?
How high phosphorus undermined LORS

Lake Okeechobee’s regulation schedules (1950-2020)
Lake Okeechobee performance over same time period

The above two charts are good companion pieces for understanding the evolution of how Lake O has been managed over the years. In 2008, a new regulation scheduled called LORS was implemented to lower Lake stage while the Hoover Dike was being rehabilitated. In terms of stage alone, LORS was fabulously successful. High and low-water extremes were kept in check on par with the 1950s and 1960s. That success story was undermined by the worsening water quality in the pelagic part of the Lake. The Lake’s interior wetlands and coastal estuaries are both intolerant and easily harmed by the eutrophic water.

Pile of sheet flow

Every couple summers the Everglades gets really flooded.

And when it does, one spot is guaranteed to flood the deepest.

This chart shows a comparison of current water levels (thick blue line) to a month ago (thin blue line), a year ago (light blue line) and the long-term normal for early December (dotted red line). WCA3A is over 2 feet higher than its long-term December norm.

An on-going challenge of managing the Everglades is helping the giant sheet of water spread out instead of disproportionately piling up in one spot.

Old views, revised

If you get the water right …

You get the swamp right.

Water is still foundational for a healthy swamp

Water is the center of the universe …

Around which the entire ecosystem revolves, right?

But it takes both flood and fire to get the ecosystem right

More correctly stated:

The swamp is a flood and fire ecosystem in which every square inch of flora and fauna depend on a regular dosage of flood and fire.

So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp.

Why the dry (and wet) season is wrong

At first glance, a wet and dry season would seem to imply …

That the swamp has just two states.

Hydrographs are helpful, but there is nothing
like the advanced cornbread model (shown above)
to really make the water cycle click

In place of these two opposing states,

Is actually an dynamic shift between varying degrees of wetness and dryness.

For example, we are currently in the part of the dry season that should be wet but is actually drier than usual thanks to the preceding wet season ending on a dry note.

(For further clarification see the chart above.)