The river is still there …
You just have to look to find it.
As for the canal:
It’s easy to find.
It’s deeper, wider, longer and straight as an arrow …
And parallels modern-day Immokalee Road.
Big changes are in store for the Lake …
With the shift from LORS to LOSOM drawing near.
But for the Caloosahatchee, the more things change …
The more they stay the same.
Here’s a closer look:
P.S. Please share with a friend!
LORS is dead (i.e. the old regulation schedule),
Or about to die.
In its place will step LOSOM …
AKA Lake Okeechobee System Operation Manual.
In a nutshell: It will send more water down the Lake’s main release valve.
People on the west coast of south Florida often complain …
of an East Coast Bias when it comes to managing the Everglades water.
Or is this more a case of balancing competing needs?
Around the campfire at night,
When the crackle is burning just right …
You can almost hear the sound of the Fort Thompson Falls.
There are cypress trees,
And there are big cypress trees …
As seen in along the banks
of the Caloosahatchee near
And then there is the “Lone Cypress.”
Standing by its trunk and scanning around (and momentarily closing your eyes) is a good starting point for contemplating what the Everglades might have been prior to drainage, and what it’s become in the modern day.
And a “must see” on anybody’s Everglades bucket list.
For over a century …
The Lone Cypress has stood its ground.
Or in other words,
The tree has stayed put.
If it weren’t for the sign,
I’d probably walk by the tree and not think twice.
Or maybe I’d sit on the bench …
And luxuriate in its shade.
And even possibly take note of the old concrete wall.
Still, I doubt it would naturally occur to me …
That the concrete wall was the old lock to the Lake Okeechobee before they built the modern one a mile or three upstream. Or that the tree once served as the sole navigational marker on the Lake.
And the stories this tree could tell if it could speak.
Fortunately there’s a sign.
I tried to visit the S-79 a couple weeks ago …
But was thwarted.
The viewing platform was closed because of Covid-19.
The good news: I was able to get some photos from further upstream.
And the data was also completely assessible online.
While many focus in the flow rate for any one day, I’ve always tried to frame the flows relative to the big picture, going years and decades back, and also understand the history of how past drainage works built the water management framework we have along the river today.
Below is more explanation on the history of the Caloosahatchee.
The Ortona lock is actually located 7 miles upstream …
Of the location of the old Ft Thompson falls.
And so the history books tell me …
The river dropped 5-10 feet over the fall’s one-mile reach.
More than just a freshet of water, it also served as a bridge (i.e. hard and shallow bottom) for cattle drives crossing the river and Native Americans before that.
And finally, it formed a pool on its upstream side called Lake Flirt.
The modern-day structure S-78 similarly backs up a pool behind it, although about 10-15 feet lower than the pre-drainage water table at the same spot, and on the upstream (not the downstream) side of the old dried-up Lake Flirt bed.
Did the Caloosahatchee …
Once feed the swamp?
The dredging of the Caloosahatchee River, and specifically blowing up of Ft. Thompson Falls in the 1880s, is often invoked as the starting point of drainage of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
In the years and decades that followed, the Caloosahatchee would go on to become the primary outlet for controlling Lake stage, a status it retains to this day. In many ways it functions as spillway for the greater Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades (KOE) flow way, and in particular for the Lake.
Not a single act, direct dredging of the river – including digging a straight channel through its tailwater oxbows, blowing up the Ft. Thompson Falls, connecting it to the Lake, and deepening the channel for nautical purposes throughout – and construction of a vast network of tributary canals that drained into it (from the north and south) occurred over a span of decades. The Caloosahatchee River was a rare case where nautical and drainage interests initially fought against each other but ultimately both won.
The original Caloosahatchee was more reminiscent of a stream in terms of its meanders and relatively shallow depth. The river was sinuous to the point of being unnavigable, requiring larger vessels to “warp-around” the curves, requiring running their bow on the shore and using a rope to swing the boat in the right direction (Antoni et al, 2002). Moreover, the stream stopped short of the Lake, about halfway to be exact, where the smaller (and now dried up) Lake Flirt basin served as its headwater source.
As a result,
- Caloosahatchee is now a channelized spillway, not a natural river
- Historic Lake Flirt and Lake Bonnet no longer exist,
- Modern-day water levels north of Ft Thompson falls are upwards of 10-15 lower than their pre-drainage condition.
The Caloosahatchee doesn’t just drain Lake O, it’s also the primary getaway canal for draining lands to the north and south of the river. This drainage capacity is enhanced by a series of tributary canals along the modern-day river’s entire length.
- Not all the water that discharges through the S-79 is from Lake Okeechobee. Approximately half comes from the Caloosahatchee watershed and those tributary canals.
- The water table under the Immokalee Rise dropped below the regional surface water table.
- Drainage of the Caloosahatchee caused the headwaters of Okaloacoochee Slough to reverse course. At some point Big Cypress Swamp’s pre-drainage watershed now flow north into the Caloosahatchee River, both groundwater (unseen) and surface water as seen at Okaloacoochee Slough.
Today we think of Lake Okeechobee feeding flows into the Caloosahatchee. But prior to drainage, (1) there was no connection from the Lake and (2) the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee actually helped feed water south into the Big Cypress Swamp.