Water Parameters

The water rises and the water falls, so what? Our goal: To describe the water table in all its forms.

Intro - Inside the water table

Fresh data is a prerequisite for good water table discussions

By Robert V. Sobczak

Everyone loves the water …

But what’s the best way to get in touch with it?

Kitchen Table Hydrology

That’s where the water table comes in. And no, I’m not talking about sitting around a table made of water or solid ice. I’m talking about being knowledgeable of where the water table is at in the places it matters and the water bodies we aim to fix.

The water table is a conversation starter for a range of water topics

What is the water table? It’s a layman term we give to the height of the surface of a water body. Most commonly it is used to describe the level of the underlying ground water. And unlike a river that moves fast (and in many streams at the rapid runs) you can actually see the water surface moving down in elevation like a run of stairsteps — the ground-water table is almost completely flat. The same can be said for most freshwater lakes and wetlands. The water table moves up and down, but also stays flat.

In the Big Cypress Swamp, there’s a little bit of a wrinkle. Over a very large scale, the land surface is slanted towards the coast. That causes the water table to slide every so slowly downhill in a phenomenon called sheet flow. If you’ve every watched a snail travel a great distance — that’s about it’s pace.

The water table never stays long in one spot

Finally, going back to the title of this post — Setting the Water Table — you can’t have a kitchen table discussion about the water without other parameters, too. Knowledge of flow rates, flooding duration, water depth, soil moisture and water quality composition go hand in hand in having a conversation about the water. But for our purposes, the water table is the best place to start.

As for the best drink to enjoy at the water table, I recommend water. The main course and dessert should also be water, too.

Recent Blog Posts

Lake not the blame (this time)
Closed gate but rising flows downstream?

With The Lake near its annual low …

And the Kissimmee River at a similar ebb:

A semi-complicated hydrograph summarizing some key indices for Lake Okeechobee over the past two years, including rainfall, lake stage, inflows from the Kissimmee River and discharge through the S-79. See the complete cheatsheet for the lake.

Why then have discharges down the Caloosahatchee River’s S-79 into the Estuary suddenly spiked to over 5,000 cfs, which in layman terms is around 34 Fenway Parks filled to the top of the 37.5 foot high Green Monster every day? Answer: Blame all the rain in the Caloosahatchee Watershed, not the Lake. The S-77 which controls Lake flows into the C-43 are closed, and is therefore recording no flow.

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Tidbit: At 13 feet above sea level, Lake Okeechobee is about 8 feet below the level it naturally overflowed its southern shore into the Everglades prior to drainage.

water table

Rise and fall of Swamp
And why its the norm (but it won't last)

The swamp falls …

and rises (sometimes from the ashes).

A look at the previous four water years

It’s called the water cycle, and more specifically — the wet and dry seasons. Unlike Up North on the continent where they have four traditional seasons, the swamp has two, meteorologically speaking at least. So, in the way of a quick review: Last wet season got off to a slow start. The water table didn’t bottom out until mid June in some places, usually a reliably rainy (if also soaking in and rising up) month. Compare that to this year’s rainy season which — thanks the Big Rain Day (BRD) this weekend — is off to a fast start. Or rather normal. The blue line (current condition) is tracking very closely with the long-term norm (white line). In summary: The swamp rises and falls. Currently it’s rising. And looking back, has there every been a 9 month span that the water table tracked so closely to the long-term normal — I wonder? If so, it isn’t a trend I expect to last.

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Swamp tidbit: A vertical elevation of just 2.5 feet separates the swamp’s low-lying wetlands from its natural high ground.

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”

Summer’s two bookends?
And how they usher in tropical humid and crisp cool air

If summer is a shelf of books …

Memorial and Labor Day are its two bookends.

Available on Apple Podcasts and Podbean

Why?  Up on the continent, the end of summer and Labor Day go hand in hand.  Not that you need go immediately from a swim suit to wearing a scarf from one day to the next, but its pretty close — if not like clockwork.  Labor Day definitely favors on the summer side of the divide, serving as its de facto “last hurrah.”  Then there’s the case of Memorial Day down in south Florida.  Just as Labor Day may usher in a freshet of cooler and crisper air Up North, Memorial Day typically is the tropical (not polar) opposite: greeting south Floridians with a chinook of humid air at their door, suddenly giving urgency to the old expression — “Close the door you’re letting the air out!” — and leaving one to wonder if per chance he or she didn’t mistakenly put on a heavy down sweater instead of a T-Shirt.  Yes, it’s that warm and humid.  There’s another saying in Florida: “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”  Between Memorial Day and a solid six weeks after Labor Day, the expression especially applies.  

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Little Known Fact: Just because it’s humid, doesn’t mean the shade isn’t cool. Says locals

dry season

Tutorial: Drought Cheatsheet
Why the swamp dries out faster than the Glades

There’s two types of drought in Florida:

Meteorologic and ecological (i.e. based on the ground).

Bob explains the ins and outs of his Soil Moisture Cheatsheet

This is especially the case in the natural lands south of Lake Okeechobee. Hydroperiod is the catch-all term to describe the duration that water persists in any given habitat throughout the year. In the Big Cypress, the term doesn’t work as well, with “soil moisture” replacing it as the operative term. So long as soils are hydric (i.e. moist) they play a powerful influence on keeping seasonal susceptibility to drought at bay, and in particularly prevent large and uncontained wildfires from springing up.

In the tutorial above, Bob explains both how he created and how you can use his weekly-updated cheat sheet to better understand (and drill down into) the subtle differences between spring drought in the Big Cypress versus the Everglades.

A closer look at the cheatsheet

Find out more about the Go Hydrology Cheatsheets at https://gohydrology.org/cheatsheets/.

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Rule: “The swamp is a flood and fire adapted ecosystem. Every square inch of flora and fauna depend on a goldilock’s return interval and dosage of flood and fire. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp.” Bob says