Balance or bias
More of the same for the Lake's main spillway

LORS is dead (i.e. the old regulation schedule),

Or about to die.

Green is good (i.e. the desired range)

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.

Or will it be too much of a good thing? Note: Can you see the major change that occurred with the implementation of LORS in 2008? Water is constantly flowing down the channel all months of the year. Presumably that (and more) will continue under LOSOM when it takes effect.

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?

Read more

Winning Tree

There are cypress trees,

And there are big cypress trees …

As seen in along the banks
of the Caloosahatchee near
Lake Okeechobee

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.

ghost of watersheds

Lonely Cypress?
The Lake used to keep it company

If it weren’t for the sign,

I’d probably walk by the tree and not think twice.

This tree originally grew
in knee-deep water along the banks
of an undiked Lake Okeechobee

Or maybe I’d sit on the bench …

And luxuriate in its shade.

And even possibly take note of the old concrete wall.

Today, it is perched over ten feet above
the water line of the Caloosahatchee River
on the outside of the Lake’s perimeter levee

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.

The title on the sign says it all

Fortunately there’s a sign.

Caloosahatchee Blues

I tried to visit the S-79 a couple weeks ago …

But was thwarted.

Eta-fueled high water releases at the S-79 have subsided

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.

This calendar chart shows how Eta compared to previous release events. It uses the same color coding as the hydrograph above. Green indicates the desired discharge envelope for the downstream estuary.

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.

New Ft. Thompson Falls?

The Ortona lock is actually located 7 miles upstream …

Of the location of the old Ft Thompson falls.

The new falls, i.e. S-78, looking south about 9 miles upstream from LaBelle

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 old falls, now gone, looking east 2 miles upstream from LaBelle

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.

River-fed Swamp?

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.

The Caloosahatchee Watershed is bigger than WCA1 and WCA2 combined

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.

How he Caloosahatchee and Big Cypress were connected … once upon a time

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.

Artistic representation of the relationship between Lake O, the Caloosahatchee, the Immokalee Rise and the Big Cypress Swamp prior to drainage

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.

Water elevation along the Caloosahatchee, prior to drainage (blue) and today (red)

The result?

  • 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.

Conclusion:

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.