Taking care of the Everglades is critical to the future of the Florida Bay

August 9 – If you’ve begun to notice how green the water has gotten around the Florida Bay, you are not alone.

And folks at the Everglades Foundation are working on a project to help the situation.

Dr. Steve Davis, Chief Science Officer from the Everglades Foundation, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the water in the Keys.

Dr. Davis appeared in the film called “Follow the Water,” which focused on the importance of the environment and the water from the Everglades to the Florida Bay.

Dr. Davis said, “They actually followed the water from Orlando all the way down to Florida Bay, which was the historic flow path of the Everglades.”

In terms of the health of the water, the captains and guides that have been out on the Florida Bay every day have been seeing a sustained bloom of algae.

Dr. Davis said, “It’s encompassing a number of basins out in central-western Florida Bay. The water looks like pea soup in a lot of areas. In some areas it’s a little bit muddy and murky, especially when the tides are ebbing. In other areas, it kind of looks like green Kool-Aid.”

The algae blooms are the result of sea grass die off from 2015.

Dr. David said, “We’re seven years past that devastating event where we lost upwards of 80 square miles of sea grass in Florida Bay and we’re still seeing the lingering effects of that today as those grasses continue to slowly recover.”

It’s also linked to salinity levels. In 2015, salinity levels were twice what is found in ocean water.

Dr. Davis explained, “That’s a hyper-saline level that becomes stressful to the sea grasses. It allows for that water to really heat up. In fact, it’s almost like a warm blanket of super salty water that smothers those grasses.”

In the past, there were summers that had a lot of fresh water inflow and allowed the Bay to do well, but this year the water inflow has been relatively slow and it’s been quite dry. That meant salinity levels were creeping up prior to the wet season.

Dr. Davis said, “It’s fundamentally about fresh water flow and getting more fresh water through the Everglades, through Everglades National Park down to Florida Bay that’s really the remedy for this problem.”

The water flow also ties into the Lake Okeechobee operating schedule.

Dr. Davis said, “Lake Okeechobee does connect it to the Everglades. It would be fed by flows coming in from the north, again, as far north as Orlando, down the Kissimmee River. That lake would fill up during the wet season and it would spill over to the south where that water would flow over 100 miles, in some areas 40 to 50 miles wide. All the way down to the tip of the peninsula. We’ve disconnected Lake Okeechobee from the Everglades and we have a large agricultural area now south of Lake Okeechobee on what used to be Everglades wetlands. So operating the lake in this new Lake Okeechobee system operating manual in a way that’s more compatible with the needs of the environment while at the same time meeting the water supply needs of those communities around the lake will allow us to reduce unwanted releases of that water and allow us to send more water down to the Everglades and ultimately to Florida Bay.”

The plan was one Governor Ron DeSantis called for and it provides a water supply while still maintaining the environment and the tourism-based economy.

It will take effect in 2023.  

A team from the Everglades Foundation worked with the engineers that created the plan.

Dr. Davis said, “We helped to work with a variety of other environmental groups to take what we deemed to be the most balanced plan and we shared that with the army corps of engineers, with the South Florida Water Management District who does a lot of the modeling for this work and here we are with a plan that really reflects a lot of the elements that we aimed to achieve to bring about the balance that we’re looking for.”

The results will create a lake operational schedule that is really aligned with the goals and objectives of Everglades restoration for the first time.

Dr. Davis said, “It’s about sending as much water south as we can and not allowing the Everglades to dry out so much and burn during the dry season and that will also provide for some supplemental flows to Florida Bay when otherwise we see salinities creeping upwards. This will really benefit the ecosystems to the south as well as the unwanted discharges that will be reduced going east and west from the lake.”

One of the most important projects for Everglades restoration is the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.

Dr. Davis said, “The easiest way to look at that is that the Everglades has been disconnected literally from its beating heart. Lake Okeechobee is often referred to as the beating heart of the Everglades. But it’s been disconnected and we use a few canals to move some water for irrigation. What this Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir does is it’s really the bypass surgery to reconnect the heart back to the Everglades to the south. It allows us to send, once it’s constructed, allows us to send enormous volume.”

Lake Okeechobee’s water is polluted. It has to be cleaned.

Dr. Davis said, “The way we do that is through large created wetlands that filter out the contaminates before that water goes south, so this reservoir project not only stores water, but it has a companion created treatment wetland that allows us to cleanse that water in addition to the 60-70,000 acres of treatment wetlands already constructed by the state of Florida in that agricultural area so that we’re sending clean water south, clean water getting down to Everglades National Park, and ultimately to Florida Bay where we need it.”

For more information, click here: https://www.evergladesfoundation.org/