Monitoring Water Quality
The Caloosahatchee today is a 75 mile long river and estuary which runs from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico across the western two-thirds of peninsular Florida. Three lock and dam structures manage water on 43 miles of the river creating two freshwater pools that feed 32 miles of tidally influenced estuary west of the WP Franklin Lock and Dam, known as S79 (structure 79).
Historically the Caloosahatchee was not connected to Lake Okeechobee; it was a twisting curving river that flowed from a waterfall and rapids at Fort Thompson located two miles east of today's town of LaBelle. The river was fed by a series of lakes surrounded by marshes that were part of the western Everglades. The natural fall of the land from Lake Okeechobee to the west directed some water from high lake stages west into the 7,776 acre Lake Hicpochee and its marsh lands then to the 522 acre Bonnett Lake, to the 100+ acre Lettuce Lake and finally into the 3,318 acre Lake Flirt where high water stages fed the Caloosahatchee over the waterfall and quarter mile of rapids. Springs and groundwater flow provided the river freshwater year round.
The Caloosahatchee Conundrum - A Goldilocks Condition
Today the man altered, channelized river and estuary are challenged by extremes of too much or too little water, yo-yoing between massive dumps of unwanted water in the wet season and too little to no water flow in the dry season and droughts. Damaging high flows wash the estuary nursery out of the river into the Gulf of Mexico and dump harmful levels of excess nutrients and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) that harms seagrass, habitat and water quality. Lack of flow in the dry season and droughts cause salinities to rise to harmful levels in the upper estuary killing the freshwater habitat needed for recreational and commercial fisheries and the food web. Water stagnation from lack of flow causes harmful algal blooms in the upriver pools.
Addressing excess water needs requires re-creating storage to capture and treat surface water throughout the greater Everglades ecosystem. Storage provides water quality treatment, recharges ground water, extends the hydro period for wetlands and habitat, and can improve the timing of water deliveries.
We also offer cruises of the Caloosahatchee during winter and spring. Dates and information can be found here.
In 2011 SCCF policy staff developed a weekly report of Caloosahatchee, estuary and coastal conditions to provide real time conditions to water managers at the Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District to inform water delivery operations and policy decisions. The SCCF Policy department works with Marine Lab staff to provide current local monitored water conditions and coordinates with local stakeholders including the Refuge, local cities and Lee County. This data and analysis is also shared on the Corps periodic scientists phone call.
2018 Weekly Reports: