Drivers

As timeless as the swamp may seem, nothing stays static for long, if at all. Really it depends on spatial and time scale your looking at. Geologically and today, drivers are causing changes great and small in the swamp.

water table

Rainy season begins on a dry note
As usual (and despite the April rains)

The start of one season …

Usually means the end of the season that came before.

History of drought in Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve

Well, hold your horses. While Memorial Day Weekend does mark the unofficial start of south Florida’s summer wet season, and to be sure from this point on we can expect the regular build up of afternoon clouds and thunderstorms — it may take a few couple weeks before the swamp starts filling up, or it could happen in a day. Until that time and until that day, the swamp is still in a state of drought. Not as deep as last year. But as you can see on the hydrograph above, it wasn’t until early June that the water table bottomed out. June is soaking in and filling up month. What we do know is that probably by July and definitely by August the swamp will get its water back.

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Meteorological Proverb: “All droughts end in flood”

Flood and fire friendly
A swamp love affair

The swamp is more than …

Just a watershed or just fire adapted:

FloodFire2

Report on the history of flood and fire in the swamp

It’s more properly understood as being a “flood and fire adapted” ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depends on some goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire. Or in other words, so goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp. Well, easier said than done. The truth is that both are blunt tool instruments that have a time lag of ecological responses, some of which we see happening in months or years, and others that take decades to unfold. The thing about the swamp: It’s malleable, too. Destroyers in other landscapes, flood and fire are a swamp’s best friend. This report discusses the history of water and fire management in Big Cypress National Preserve, how it’s changed over time and other factors that weave into the fire-water mix.

More about the report: I tried to make it coffee table friendly. I always say, “there’s nothing more complicated than water in the swamp, with the exception of fire. But somehow by combining the two we simplify the math.”

flood and fire

Water and fire
On the same day

If you ask the swamp point blank:

“What’s your preference — water or fire?”

Water in the swamp

Fire in the swamp

Not that the swamp’s greedy, but it will say “both.” The swamp, you see, is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depends on a goldilocks dosage and return interval of flood and fire on the landscape. Just as important is the balance between the two. Preferred patchy burns result when the water table is close to the surface and water is still ponding in the lowest spots. And water needs fire to open up foraging grounds for wading birds to opportunistically exploit. Getting the fire right means getting the water right and getting the fire and water right means getting the ecosystem right.

Shorter commute?
Swamp stays put, but town gets closer

National parks have a reputation …

For being stuck in time in a good way.

Population growth in south Florida since Everglades Nat’l Park and Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve were established. Compared to Miami, it looks like Collier County has barely grown at all.

Years, even decades, later you can return to a park …

And it mostly looks the same. Same old trees. Same old swamp.

But on the other side of the dotted line …

The landscape has and is rapidly changing.

Population growth in Collier County over time. By 2040 population growth in East Collier alone (shown in red) is predicted to the 2010 countywide level.

The same return trip to a spot you remembered as a grove of trees or farm fields in your youth often times has changed to houses, concrete and a maze of roads.

Slowly and steadily, that has made the parks less and less remote.

Driving to town just isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Everglades Restoration at Sunset
As seen at the S-356 and S-334

Water is famously said to have …

A mind of its own.

Short narrated video at the Everglades S-356

Or in other words, it’s going to flow where it wants to flow. Except in the Everglades at spots like this where with pumps and gates we tell the water when and where it can and cannot flow and by how much. As primordial a landscape as the Everglades appears to be (with its ancient alligators and horizon-to-horizon flooded expanse, don’t mistaken that with being completely wild and free. Concrete structures and pumps guard its perimeter and dole out its water in a system that’s so complex that even a well seasoned hydrologist like me is sometimes left scratching his head. Not that I won’t eventually figure it out, and usually just in time for another mystery to unfold.