Hydrologic Restoration

Before we saved the swamp, we messed it up. Restoration comes in many forms. The basic goal is to get nature working better by restoring its water, quality and habitats.

Big Cypress Master Plan?
One hydrologist's view

When it comes to master planning …

Everglades Restoration comes to mind, emphasis on Everglades.

What to do with the Big Cypress?

But what’s about the Big Cypress Swamp? Partly because it was marketed as a “self contained” watershed in the early days of its preservation (i.e. it gets all its water from the sky, so it came gift-wrapped already restored) and partly because it lies outside the traditional boundaries of the U.S. Army Corps and South Florida Water Management District’s Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project and partly because it’s a mysterious place cloaked in a mythology that’s hard to shake, there’s never been a consensus on what should or could be done to get the water right, and why it’s so important for the greater whole.

Until now! In the presentation above, I provide an overview of the Big Cypress Swamp as a sum of its parts and why and where hydrologic restoration may lie ahead.

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Quote: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” —Henry David Thoreau

Best Water Management Logo in Florida?
And the winner is (drum roll please) ...

You don’t know how difficult logos can be …

Until you try to make one yourself.

Florida’s five districts, plus the agency that unites them all

And now imagine having to make one that measures up to four other like organizations, and also resonates with the greater public interest it serves. Such is the challenge for Florida’s five water management districts. Water management logos are a lot like state flags. They contain subtleties and historical nuances that only an student of the genre or a long time local could fully understand. And I would imagine that each logo has evolved over the years. For all I know, as I type, one of the districts may be tweaking (or completely reinventing) its design. If I had to guess, I would say that the Suwannee’s is the most recently modified, in part because it’s such a departure from the rest — it doesn’t have a state map and in general is more minimalistic than the rest.

Things I like about each one: (1) for Northwest Florida it’s the grove of cypress and stand of long-leaf pine, (2) the Suwannee is its simplicity (and clarity) of color and words, (3) the St Johns River has a decidedly nautical feel, which probably makes sense given how far inland (161 miles from its mouth), (4) for Southwest Florida it has to be the background waves of the gulf, and how it reaffirms that the entire basin feeds the downstream estuaries, and (5) for south Florida is has to be the sun rays reaching out into an expansive yet cloudless sky (I can only assume the river is the Kissimmee).

Last but not least is the sixth: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It has general oversight over all five districts. As for which logo is the best, I think they are all interesting in their own ways. Which one I like best might depend on the day, or what district I live.

Aren’t our watersheds a little bit like sports teams? They bring us together as a community to root for the same cause and rally around the same logo. What’s your favorite logo, and why?

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Chronology: The South Florida Water Management District is the oldest of the five, forming in 1949, with the others following in 1977 as a result of the Water Resources Act signed into law by the Florida legislature in 1972.

Crayfish carapace
And why the live ones are underground

Usually when I find them …

They are dead.

Fish, wading birds, otters and alligators eat crayfish

Crayfish enjoy algae, aquatic bugs and small fish

Crayfish holes can extend 3 feet deep (so I’ve read)

But wherever I find them there is usually also ample evidence that they are alive, in the form of tiny tunnels that wormhole out of sight into the marl where often but not always the water table can still be seen. It sort of reminds me of how alligators wallow out water holes, but on a smaller scale.

That brings me back to finding them dead. I’ve never been pinched by a crayfish, but I have been pinched by a blue crab, and yes that hurt. But who could blame the crab: Being a Marylander, I’ve eaten dozens of them in a single sitting, and probably over a thousand my entire life. Or in other words, I deserved to get pinched.

Crayfish are the base of the food chain

Meanwhile in another part of the glades, there’s a patch of peat that is completely bereft of crayfish holes. The reason? The amplitude between summer wet season water depths and the spring dive of the water table below the ground is too great. The culprit is a nearby canal and levee called the L-28 Interceptor. The good news is that there’s a plan to fill the canal in and take the levee out. The result? While the future is always uncertain and there are no guarantees, my hope is more crayfish holes, even if when I find them they are always dead.

A carapace in the hand is worth two underground. (Not sure if the final catch line works … but you know what I mean.)

tidal

Old and New Everglades
How the past informs the future

This image is oldie …

But a goodie.

Pre and Post Drainage Everglades

I‘d always seen the images of the pre and post drainage Everglades side by side, and with all the looking back in forth it inspired me to superimpose them overtop of each other and toggle them back and forth. In a nutshell, there’s no going back to the pre-drainage. But that doesn’t mean we simply ignore the pre-drainage system. Understanding it helps us frame the possibilities and limitations of modern-day water management and restoration efforts. Also, the new mantra in the Everglades isn’t about looking into the past, but ahead into the future. Increasing attenuated water flows across the landscape is our best bet locally for battling back and keeping a balance with sea level rise.

One big caveat about this animated map: It doesn’t get the Big Cypress right. For one it cuts it in half and two, it doesn’t properly show the flows. Sounds like a new project. Stay tuned!

Big Cypress Half
And why it's so important to the larger whole

Someone I greatly admired told me:

“We can’t spend 100 percent of our effort on half the problem and expect to solve the problem.”

Listen to the song

More specifically, he was talking about Everglades Restoration and the need to spend more time, energy (and yes money) on fixing the hydrology of the Big Cypress half. Part of the issue stems from how Big Cypress National Preserve and the larger Big Cypress half of the pond has been framed. Long perceived as an separate and isolated watershed from the Everglades to the east, there is growing recognition that the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades — and most of all the restoration of all the freshwater and estuarine habitats they contain and feed — are tied together at the hip. The good news: The tide seems to be turning. And just in time. With all the success being achieved in other parts of the Everglades, the Big Cypress Swamp is the new and important frontier for getting the entire ecosystem right.

As for the video: It’s an interview about a song I wrote at the retirement of a long-time ranger who worked at Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Both the song and the interview explore what I call the Big Cypress Paradox — the contrary state of the swamp being described as so many people’s “favorite part of the Everglades” only to have it drop to the bottom of the list when the restoration money gets earmarked.