Mythical watershed
How rain saved (and ruined) the swamp

One of the biggest myths of the swamp …

Is that it’s a watershed untouched by time.

A map of how water used to flow into and through the Big Cypress

So the story goes:

Unlike the highly-engineered Everglades management system that depends on a complex operation of gates, pumps, water treatment areas and regulation schedules …

The Big Cypress escaped from drainage unscathed.

A diagram showing how the modern “watershed myth” compares to the pre-drainage and actual present day condition (for the northeast corner of the Big Cypress)

The true(r) story:

Yes, the swamp gets most of its water straight from the sky, but it relies on upstream flows too. And here’s the big catch: The size of its upstream drainage (or watershed) has shrunk over time.

Or in other words, the swamp is (primarily) rain-driven because all the other “pre-drainage” sources of water got drained away or boxed out.

Timeline showing the history of drainage in the Big Cypress

The good news:

There are a lot worse fates that could befall an ecosystem than to become a watershed. And why cry over spilt milk of drainage past when there is a lot of work big and small that can be done to help achieve the goal of making the swamp the very best rain-driven work it can be.

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Quotable: “Myths that are believed in tend to become true.” Bernard Shaw

What is hydrologic restoration?

What’s the goal of getting the water right?

For the swamp, it’s about getting the right dose and duration of water for the flora and fauna (top). Inescapably there are a range of water attributes and stakeholder interests that need to be met (left) and old infrastructure that needs to be fixed (right) all in the spirit of trying to recapture some semblance what the swamp was like prior to canals and levees (bottom) interrupted the flow with the caveat that a healthy future not an unattainable past is the hydrologic restoration goal.

And by the way, thank goodness we still have that rain!

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