Lake O below Big Cypress

SFWJ: July 16-22
Sixty miles to the south, wetland stage in Big Cypress rises higher than Lake

How low is the Lake? Wetland stage in Big Cypress National Preserve, as far south as the preserve’s central pinelands has risen a half foot above the lake in recent weeks. That’s a full 60 miles to the south.

That’s a far cry from the levee-threatening height of 17 ft mean sea level the Lake climbed in the wake of Hurricane Wilma in November 2005. Wilma’s surge briefly pushed Lake stage a few inches higher than regulatory stage in Water Conservation Area 1 (Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge) at the time. Now, almost 20 months later, Lake stage has steadily dropped to its current position some 7 ft below Loxahatchee’s wetland stage.

Big Cypress: Big Cypress National Preserve ,Corkscrew and OK Slough . Preserve-wide stage is tracking just a few inches below the 5-year year average for late July. That places the wetting front up into the preserve’s wet prairies. That means that most of our swamp forests, marshes, and cypress communities are flooded with water. That’s not the case everywhere, however. The northwest corner of the preserve fed by Okaloacoochee Slough remains anomolously dry compared to rest of the preserve. Wetland stage has yet to break above ground surface even in the deeper slough communities. In general, the southern end of the preserve south of the Tamiami Trail remains the wettest. The wetting front has risen above the wet prairies into the hydric pines.

Everglades: Everglades National Park ,WCA3,WCA12. All is quiet in terms of flows along the Park’s headwater boundaries. The S12s remain largely closed, which combined with low headwater pooling levels in upstream Water Conservation Area 3A, has meant very little flow has discharged across the S12s so far this summer. (This week’s weekly average was under 50 cfs in comparison to a 1500 cfs late July average over the past 5 years.) Last year was a similar late start and low flow total for the S12s. Total S12 discharges did not rise above 1000 cfs until mid September of last year, and maxed out at slightly over 2000 cfs in early October.

The good news is that freshwater flows are feeding into the western arm of the Park courtesy of its headwater preserve (Big Cypress National Preserve). Freshwater flows have been discharging through the bridges that underly the Tamiami Trail, from Carnestown to 40 Mile Bend at 500 cfs for the past month. That’s about 1500 cfs short of the 5 year July average. Over half of the 500 cfs flow through 4 consecutive bridges on the preserve’s western end that feed water into Turner River and Barnes Strand. The main Barnes Strand Bridge (Bridge #86) accounts for 30 percent of the flow across the 30 stretch of US41, and leads all other US41 structures (including the S12s) for moving water south across the Trail. Way to go Bridge 86! Your the unsung hero of getting flows into the Park.

All other major structures are closed in the conservation areas. Around 3 ft of water is pooling up in WCA2 behind the S11s, and over 3.5 ft of water is pooling up in Loxahatchee behind the S10s. There is currently about 1.5 ft of water in the sloughs of southern WCA3A, no standing water in the sloughs of northeast 3A, slough water depth of 0.5 in WCA2, and central slough water depth in Loxahatchee of 0.8 ft, pushing the wetting front into the slough’s ridge counterpart.

Lake O:,Kissimmee . Lake O stage has now been around 9 ft mean sea level for the better part of 2 months. Back during the 2001 drought, lake stage rose back above 10 ft msl by late July, about a foot higher* than our current late July level. This week’s 3 inch rain total in the Upper Kissimmee Basin, combined with the Lower Kissimmee’s current 8 inch July total is bodes well for restarting flows from the Lakes primary water source, the Kissimmee River. It’s now been 20 months since the Kissimmee River has exceeded a flow rate of 5000 cfs into the Lake. That occurred in November 2005 shortly after Wilma.
* corrections in red
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