SCCF Takes SFWMD Leaders on Estuary Tour
Today, SCCF Marine Lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt and Environmental Policy Director James Evans took members of the South Florida Water Management District out on the Caloosahatchee estuary to see first-hand the impacts of high volumes of freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
More than 2.5 times the damaging high-flow threshold established by scientists and water managers, current flows to the Caloosahatchee estuary, measured at the Franklin Lock and Dam structure (S-79) averaged more than 7,000 cubic feet per second for the past 24 hours. Approximately 58% of the flows are coming from Lake Okeechobee and the remaining 42% are from the Caloosahatchee watershed.
The members of the District included Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss, The Director of Ecosystem Restoration and Capital Projects Jennifer Reynolds, and Communications Director Sean Cooley.
WINK News Environmental Reporter Stephanie Byrne was also aboard the RV Norma Campbell for the estuary tour.
SCCF’s scientists explained the impacts that the freshwater releases are having on the ecology of the estuary and how these high-level flows can lower salinity levels and impact the health of seagrasses and oysters.
The group discussed the current limitations of the water management system and the need for additional storage, treatment, and conveyance south into the Everglades and Florida Bay to reduce damaging flows to the estuaries.
In addition to discussing the current ecological conditions, the group also talked about the value of SCCF’s oyster and seagrass restoration efforts underway and explored opportunities for future restoration projects to enhance habitat and improve water quality.
There was strong agreement that the Army Corps’ and the District’s efforts in 2019 and 2020 to maintain Lake Okeechobee at a lower level helped delay and shorten the duration of the damaging discharges to the estuaries.
SCCF has been successful in restoring more than four acres of oyster reefs throughout the Caloosahatchee estuary, with the goal of establishing 20 acres by 2025. Seagrass restoration efforts will depend on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which will help restore the quantity, quality, timing, and distribution of freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee reestablishing a salinity gradient within the estuary that will support seagrass recovery.
SCCF scientists provide weekly research and monitoring data to water managers through the Caloosahatchee and Estuary Conditions Report.
The report provides a weekly snapshot of the conditions within the estuary and science-based recommendations. These reports also help scientists and resource managers track conditions and assess the ecological response of our restoration efforts.