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Wildflower Preserve project to enhance Lemon Bay

By Elaine Allen-Emrich, Community News Editor

ENGLEWOOD – Once land is cleared of invasive plants and another estuary is created, the Wildflower Preserve will serve as a filtration system for cleaning water before it reaches Lemon Bay.

The preserve will also help restore diminishing habitats for juvenile tarpon and snook. Through two grants of more than $1 million, the Lemon Bay Conservancy, which oversees the preserve, is moving forward with a huge habitat restoration project.

Located at an abandoned 80-acre golf course now known as Wildflower Preserve, the project will also enhance the existing freshwater and estuarine wetlands. It will add 14 acres of estuarine wetlands and five acres of freshwater wetlands, and add native wetland and coastal upland plantings.

“It will take about two months to take out about 50 acres of exotic vegetation including Brazilian pepper trees, and Australian pines and melaleuca,” said Eva Furner, chair of the Wildflower Preserve Planning committee, board member and volunteer. "It is scheduled at the end of next week. Once the acreage is cleared, we will use herbicides to stop the regrowth of the invasive plants and maintain it.

“After a year, we will go back in and plant about 3,000 pine trees and a variety of other natural species,” she said.

Another important part of the project is adding new wetlands by digging up a portion of the golf course which will take in water that flows into the property from nearby communities.

The nutrient-rich water will flow through the wetland and treat it naturally.

“Reducing excess nutrients that go into Lemon Bay is very important because it helps prevent algae, which blocks out seagrassess and causes problems in the natural communities,” Furner said.

Some of the new brackish water created by digging out the course will be part of the estuary. It will provide an important area for native fish to develop.

“Snook is hatched in the Gulf and then migrate to backwater creeks," Furner said. “By having these creeks, we will have an area where a lot of young fish like tarpon and snook develop for about a year and a half. Then they make their way back to the Gulf.”

The project will not only improve the quality of water entering into the bay but increase the resilience of neighboring communities to the potential impacts of climate change—flooding and storm protection.

Jim Cooper, president of the Conservancy, said it’s exciting to see the project move along after several years of planning and coordination with the Southwest Florida Water Management District and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both of which gave grants for the renovations.

“It's not just moving forward as a vision, but now as a reality,” Cooper said. “We will need volunteers to help in the fall with lots of different things that are directly and indirectly involved with this ongoing project.”

Source: Englewood Sun »


NOAA to debut storm surge alarm system in time for hurricane season

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Photo: "Coyote" drone, courtesy NOAA

WASHINGTON — Picture the possibility: a weather warning system so accurate it pinpoints the reach and intensity of a storm surge from an impending hurricane days before the flooding hits.

After years of planning and testing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is rolling out such a system for the 2016 hurricane season that officially begins Wednesday for the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. A more detailed version is expected to come online next year that could predict storm surges even before a system forms.

The technology is one of two milestone projects being deployed on a wide scale this year. Government forecasters hope it not only will save lives, but give the public more confidence that an evacuation order should be taken seriously.

"The goal is to increase the chances that when people are instructed by their emergency managers to evacuate, they go," Richard Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, told a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee Wednesday.

The other project is a disposable drone known as the Coyote. It was first dropped into the eye of Hurricane Edouard off the Atlantic coast in 2014, providing scientists an unprecedented trove of data on the movement and intensity of the storm.

That experiment was so successful that NOAA plans to use a small fleet of the Raytheon-made aircraft (weighing 13 pounds and sporting a 58-inch wingspan) for the 2016 hurricane season that officially kicks off June 1.

Continued on »


Deal would preserve ranch near Myakka River

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A 1,088-acre property in Manatee County that touches nearly three miles of the Myakka River is one step closer to being placed into permanent conservation after Southwest Florida Water Management District officials earmarked $2 million Tuesday for an easement on the land. The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast has been negotiating for months to preserve the Triangle Ranch, which sits just north of the Sarasota County line and borders Myakka River State Park.

More than 100 species of birds have been spotted on the ranch. Protecting and restoring the property's marsh habitat also will benefit water quality and help with flood management efforts downriver.

Triangle Ranch's owners – a family that has held the land for a century – want to sell the property outright, but many state leaders are wary of purchasing more public land.

Knowing the political climate, the foundation opted to seek funding for a conservation easement that protects the property from development but keeps it in private hands. A private conservation buyer – Bradenton philanthropist Elizabeth Moore – is negotiating to purchase Triangle Ranch and has agreed to the perpetual easement.

“We've had to find very creative ways to save land,” said foundation president Christine Johnson.

The complex transaction has yet to be finalized, but Johnson is optimistic the deal will go through now that the easement has received preliminary approval.

The purchase price for the 1,088 acres is $4.8 million. Moore also is purchasing another 55 adjacent acres that will not have a conservation easement but will be deed restricted to limit development, Johnson said.

Continued in the Herald-Tribune »


Suncoast Reef Rovers clean Venice Pier

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A truly impressive amount of marine debris was cleaned from the Venice Fishing Pier on May 21, 2016 by the Suncoast Reef Rovers. The Suncoast Reef Rovers of Venice, Florida is a dive-enthusiast club dedicated to organized dive trips and coastal stewardship. They have been cleaning this location since 1998. Imagine what a positive difference this group has made over the last 18 years!

More than a dozen people assisted the 8 divers who cut, dug and yanked crab traps, buoys, line, fishing line, lures, knives, rods & reels, anchors and hooks that were wrapped around the pilings. This is a job for skilled divers who can work safely in an environment where the divers themselves are at risk for getting tangled.

The waste material was hauled up to the pier and also gathered onto a boat. The area cleaned was the seaward end of the fishing pier located at 1600 Harbor Drive South at Brohard Park, near Sharkey’s restaurant. Recycled or reused materials included thirty pounds of lead weights, anchors, hooks, and leaders. Waste remaining after usable materials were removed was more than could be held by three large trash cans! The Rovers report that there is more debris down there that will be cleaned up at some other time.

Three members of Sarasota Bay Watch participated in the event. They brought a boat and helped hoist materials from the water. The Rovers welcomed efforts by Sarasota Bay Watch to gather data about marine debris that can be used by scientists to understand problem areas, commonly found debris, fishing impacts and marine life entanglement.

SBW will measure the fishing line, nets and rope. Mote interns and high school volunteers will get community service hours for measuring, counting and weighing the waste that was gathered. Plastic waste will be recycled. The data will be shared with the NOAA Marine Debris Working Group.

The City of Venice closed the pier to fishing during this annual event. Venice Marine Patrol and the Florida Fish and Wildlife officers patrolled the area and ensured the diver’s protection from boaters. Sharkey’s on the Pier provided delicious, discounted lunches for the volunteers.

The Suncoast Reef Rovers will be conducting three more dive cleanups this year at the Venice Jetties. Sarasota Bay Watch enthusiastically recommends that skilled divers or other volunteers help the Suncoast Reef Rovers to continue their important work in keeping our marine waters healthy for aquatic life.

Full report on the event, with photos »

Visit the Suncoast Reef Rovers website »


Army Corps suspends swimming activities at Franklin Recreation Area

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has temporarily suspended swimming and other water activities at the W.P. Franklin South Recreation Area located near Fort Myers due to the presence of blue-green algae.

The Corps was notified this afternoon by the Florida Department of Health that an algal bloom was present at the W.P. Franklin Lock, and has decided to suspend water activities at the beach until further notice.

“Public safety is our highest priority,” said Steve Dunham, chief of the Jacksonville District’s South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston.

The beach itself will remain open to visitors who wish to sunbathe or play in the sand. Visitors will be prohibited from swimming or otherwise playing in the water. Use of the boat ramp will still be allowed.

For more information on blue-green algae, please visit the Florida Department of Health website.

For information on the W.P. Franklin Lock and Visitor Center, call 239-694-2582.

Source: USACE news release »


Estero endorses proposed $13.7 million state conservation project

Estero supports an effort to secure $13.7 million of state funding for the preservation of 2,841 acres in southeast Lee County.

The village council on Wednesday [May 18] agreed to send a letter endorsing the project, CREW Headwaters, to stewards of Florida Forever, the state's public land acquisition program.

"Your support really gives us a boost," said Brad Cornell, a spokesman for Audubon of the Western Everglades.

CREW Headwaters got its name because the targeted acres of groves and farmland are north of Corkscrew Swamp, which is in the vast Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed.

If state funding is made available, CREW Headwaters would lessen the harm caused by the degraded water that has flowed into southeast Lee's marshes for at least the last 50 years, according to project advocates. It is also in prime Florida Panther territory.

Continued in the Naples Daily News »


Estero River dangers to be cleared

Estero River will be cleared of fallen tree limbs and overhanging invasive trees such as Brazilian peppers to remove potentially dangerous barriers to the river's natural flow.

Work to clear natural debris deposited in the Estero River is inspiring a volunteer campaign to clear rubbish from the river vistas and clean trashy graffiti from a railroad trestle that spans the waterway.

Fallen limbs and an arching canopy of foliage from invasive Brazilian pepper trees have confounded recreational users of the river, creating navigational hazards and keeping sunlight from reaching native vegetation.

Betsy Clayton, communications director for Lee County, said in a prepared statement that a contractor will be removing "dead branches, floating palms and Brazilian (Pepper trees) that are growing out over the river."

Invasive pepper trees were touted as "Florida Holly" when first introduced to the region. They found the climate inviting and spread their seeds, spawning trees nudged out the natural ecological balance of the river.

Continued in the News-Press »


CHNEP recruiting for new director

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The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP), through the City of Punta Gorda, is recruiting for the position of CHNEP Director. This position reports directly to the CHNEP Policy Committee. It is a high-level executive position responsible for managing and directing all activities related to the CHNEP.

Applications and all required documents must be received by City of Punta Gorda Human Resources no later than 4:30 PM, Monday, June 13, 2016. No later than June 30, 2016, the City of Punta Gorda Human Resources Department will screen for minimum qualifications all applications that were received by the deadline specified above. The CHNEP Policy Committee will then screen pre-qualified candidates' application submittals at a public meeting on July 14, 2016 in order to select candidates for interview.

Interviews are planned for Thursday, August 11, 2016. Interviews will be conducted by the CHNEP Policy Committee during a public meeting. The ranking of candidates is likely to be made the day of the interviews. Once the ranking has been completed, the CHNEP Policy Committee will notify the candidates.

A Policy Committee representative will enter into negotiations with the highest ranked candidate. If negotiations are unsuccessful with the first candidate, the representative will either enter into negotiations with the next ranked candidate(s), or notify the Policy Committee who may choose to begin the process over if there is no consensus to move forward with the existing slate of candidates.

Start date of the successful candidate is expected to be October 3, 2016. An earlier start date may be negotiated, depending on the circumstances of the successful candidate.

A complete job description and links to online employment applications may be found at the link below.

Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, June 13, 2016.

Information and online application »


Public blasts DEP over new water toxics limits

The state of Florida wants to weaken its restrictions on roughly two dozen cancer-causing chemicals that can be discharged into its rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of revising limits on toxic chemicals that can be released into surface waters, something it’s supposed to do from time to time under the Clean Water Act but hasn’t since the early 1990s.

The agency is updating human-health criteria for 43 dangerous chemical compounds it currently regulates and adopting standards for the first time for another 39.

Of the 82 various toxic substances, the vast majority would have lower standards than recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency. And of the 43 chemicals now regulated, about a couple dozen would see limits increased beyond those currently allowed.

DEP officials say the new standards — based on risk and factors like seafood consumption — would let Floridians safely eat Florida fish and drink local tap water their entire lives. They say the concentration of pollutants in the water wouldn’t pose a significant risk to the average Floridian’s health.

But environmental groups and concerned doctors say the new standards would increase chances people will get sick or develop cancer from the contamination in seafood and water. The proposal drew fire last week during a DEP workshop in Tallahassee, one of only three held around the state.

Continued in the Tallahassee Democrat »


Learn about “Florida’s Maritime Past” this summer

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The Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez is working with Lifelong Learning Academy (LLA) to present a four-week course on "Florida’s Maritime Past". Water has shaped daily life throughout Florida’s history. This course traces that influence through more than 500 years, highlighting important events and figures and looking at how these weave together to created the state’s rich history and maritime heritage.

Presented chronologically, classes will cover the Calusa (Native Americans of Florida’s southwest coast whose culture was based on fishing), Florida from the 1500s to the present, boatbuilding and shipwrecks, and marine archaeology.

Classes will meet on Thursdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m., beginning July 7th. Cost of the 4-week course is $54 for LLA members, $60 for non-members. Seating is limited. To register please contact the Lifelong Learning Academy at (941) 359- 4296 or visit LLA's website:

More information »


Mark your calendar for Battle on the Blueway

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FORT MYERS — Paddling enthusiasts will mark the return of a competitive Calusa Blueway race event with the Battle of the Blueway to be held June 11 and 12 at Fort Myers Beach.

The event is a World Paddle Association Region 5 sanctioned points race that will include more than $10,000 in prize money, 7-mile and 2-mile races, sprints, an OC-6 race, a Calusa Kids Race, a Special Olympics Fun Race, a demonstration area, and vendor and environmental education areas.

The event happens at Crescent Beach Family Park, 1100 Estero Blvd., and includes competitive events for standup paddleboarders (SUPs) as well as kayaks, outrigger canoes and surf-skis. More than 110 racers from Southwest Florida and the Southeastern United States competed in the 2015 event.

Races with major prize money include Ron Jon’s 7 Mile Pro Race. Prize money will be given for first through fifth place, from $1,400 to $100, respectively. Another race with prize money is the Any Lab Test Now Sunday Sprints, which is for teams of four. Prize money will be given for first through third place, from $500 to $200, respectively. Cash prizes also are available for several other classes based on participation.

The complete schedule is available online, including details on June 10 pre-race event at Point Ybel Brewing Company, the June 11 and June 12 racers’ meetings and the actual race starts. Race day starts range from 8:30 through 10:30 a.m. Awards ceremonies are in the afternoon each day. June 11 features a post-race day after party at Pete's Time Out.

The event is free for spectators, who can view racers from both the Fort Myers Beach Pier and the shore at Crescent Beach Family Park.

Race entries are $45 to $65. After June 3, race prices increase to $65 to $85. No registration will happen during the event. Beach parking typically has a fee.

The event also is designed to introduce non-racers to paddling with a spectator area and places for those who want to try out a paddleboard. Nonprofits will be onsite to display wildlife, Native American artifacts and environmental education materials.

Sponsors of the Battle of the Blueway include the Any Lab Test Now, Best Western Plus Beach Resort, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Body Glove, Extreme Life Sports, Holiday Water Sports, Functional Artwork by Steve Nagy, Point Ybel Brewing, SWFL SUP Club, Pete’s Time Out, Planet Fitness, Fish-Tale Marina, Sunset Beach Tropical Grill, SUP Magazine, YOLO Board Adventures, Snikwah, Lahui Kai and Lee County Sports Development.

Out-of-area paddlers and spectators can book lodging at the host hotel, The Best Western Plus Beach Resort, for discounted rates. You must note your participation when making the reservation. Call 239-463-6000. Additional lodging can be found at the Lee County Sports Housing website, or by calling 1-888-529-6588.

More information »


Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act now adopted

The 2016 Florida Legislature adopted SB 552, a long-awaited, comprehensive water bill that tackled issues from Everglades restoration to water supply and created the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act (the Springs Protection Act or the Act), which is now Part VIII of Chapter 373, Florida Statutes. See Ch. 2016-1, § 22 et seq., Laws of Fla.

The Springs Protection Act is aimed at protecting Florida springs fed by the Floridan Aquifer, one of two aquifer systems which underlie the majority of the state (the other is the Biscayne Aquifer, located in an area stretching from Boca Raton to the Florida Keys) and one of the most productive aquifers in the world. As the legislature recognized, the “[w]ater quality of springs is an indicator of local conditions of the Floridan Aquifer,” and these springs are threatened by polluted runoff, discharges resulting from inadequate wastewater and stormwater management practices, and reduced water levels of the Floridan Aquifer from withdrawals. The Act focuses on the water quantity and quality of Florida’s springs.

The Springs Protection Act builds on existing law, including the Florida Water Resources Act and the Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Act, and requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to adopt:

  • recovery and prevention strategies to ensure that water levels at Florida’s springs do not fall below established Minimum Levels; and
  • basin management action plans (BMAPs) to ensure that pollutant levels in Florida’s springs are below established Total Maximum Daily Loads.

Continued on »


Study: Efficient fixtures have cut U.S. indoor water use 22% since 1999

Indoor household water use in the United States decreased 22 percent between 1999 and 2016, according to the most rigorous analysis to date of how water is used in U.S. homes.

Even more encouraging for conservationists is that indoor water use could drop another 35 percent or more if all homes installed the most water-efficient fixtures and appliances on the market.

The decline in water use — from 670 liters (177 gallons) per household per day to 522 liters (138 gallons) — is not due to a green wave of environmentalism breaking over the suburbs. U.S. households accomplished the feat without a significant change in behavior, according to William DeOreo, lead author of the study. Household size was roughly equal in the two studies (2.7 people in 1999 versus 2.6 today). Minutes per shower remained constant. Toilet flushes did not budge. Neither did faucet use. The reason households are using less water: better equipment.

“It’s almost all attributable to fixtures,” DeOreo told Circle of Blue, talking about toilets, faucets, clothes washers, dishwashers, and other appliances. “It’s not like people’s habits changed. Better technology really drove the reduction. And there’s room for more improvement if we adopt the best technology out there today.”

The study’s findings are consistent with broader water use patterns in the United States. Water withdrawals peaked in 1980, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. In addition, many cities, while confronting limits to water supply, are seeing persistent downward trends in consumption. Fort Worth, Texas, for instance, cut residential water use by 18 percent between 2006 and 2013. And Seattle uses about 30 percent less water today than in the late 1980s.

Continued on the website Circle of Blue »


Cape Coral objects to North Fort Myers injection well

A feud between Cape Coral and two state agencies has accusations flying of bad science, water pollution and putting money before environmental concerns.

In the middle are Cape residents who could face contaminated drinking water and increased water bills from higher operating costs from the city’s water utility.

The fight stems from a Florida Governmental Utility Authority’s proposal to dig a shallow injection well to remove surplus treated wastewater from its North Fort Myers plant. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of intent to issue a permit for the well on April 27.

City Manager John Szerlag said the city has objected to the proposed well numerous times and has concerns the state DEP is ignoring environmental concerns. The FGUA counters the environmental concerns are overblown and the city altered at the last minute a potential agreement which would have prevented the need for the well.

Continued in the News-Press »


Southwest Weirs project officially gets started

A ceremonial ground breaking ceremony was held May 4 on the grounds of the Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District to mark the start of the Southwest Lehigh Weirs Project.

Several officials of those associated with the weir project lined up with gold-colored shovels to mark the occasion.

Inside the LA-MSID, a crowd gathered for a brief presentation documenting the beginning of work to start construction.

"The Southwest Lehigh Weirs project, otherwise known as the Aquifer Benefit and Storage for the Orange River Basin project, provides construction of 25 weirs in Lehigh through a strategic, multi-agency partnership between the Florida Department of Transportation and South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District," said Kenneth Thompson, chairman of LA-MSID.

He said the project is a crucial step to making tangible improvements in the health of the Caloosahatchee and estuary - tidal and estuarial basins - through improved water quality and aquifer recharge and increased storage for the Orange River Basin.

A weir is a barrier across a water flow designed to alter its flow characteristics. In most cases, weirs take the form of obstructions smaller than most conventional dams, pooling water behind them while also allowing it to flow steadily over their tops.

Weirs are commonly used to alter the flow of rivers to prevent flooding.

Continued in the Lehigh Acres Citizen »


Paradise lost, found in Southwest Florida seagrass

By Mark Alderson, Lisa Beever and Holly Greening, Guest Columnists for the Herald-Tribune

In the early 1900s, bay waters from Tampa to Charlotte Harbor teemed with sea life. Old-timers wistfully recall collecting scallops, clams and oysters by the bucketful. Snook, spotted sea trout and red drum were plentiful.

That rich natural abundance was nurtured, in part, by vast seagrass meadows, one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Seagrasses provide food and shelter for 70 percent of our local fishery species. They trap sediments, stabilize bay bottoms and store carbon. Because they need sunlight for photosynthesis, seagrasses require clear water to survive and grow.

Over the decades, intense residential and commercial development took a toll on water quality and seagrasses in Southwest Florida. Marshes were drained. Dredging removed seagrass habitat, and associated suspended sediments smothered neighboring seagrass beds.

Canals and drainage pipes accelerated the rush of stormwater from impervious roads and buildings to the bay, carrying with it nitrogen from fertilizers and pet waste. Mangrove fringe and coastal marsh, which previously filtered runoff, were replaced with seawalls. Wastewater discharges and leaky septic fields flushed bacteria and nitrogen into waterways.

Nitrogen pollution fueled algal blooms, which clouded the water. Deprived of sunlight, seagrasses died; and, as algae died and decayed, they robbed waters of life-sustaining oxygen, killing fish and other sea life.

In less than a century, once vast seagrass meadows and their abundant sea life had literally become a shadow of their former glory. Threats to public health, quality of life and the tourism-based economy, together with a new environmental understanding and ethic, motivated Southwest Florida communities to restore their bays.

In the 1990s, three national estuary programs (NEPs) were created on Florida’s Gulf Coast to protect and restore our three Estuaries of National Significance: Sarasota Bay (established 1989), Tampa Bay (established 1991) and Charlotte Harbor (established 1995). No other coastline in the nation has three NEPs providing contiguous management leadership for its protection and restoration.

Partnerships are the key to NEP success, including local, state and federal agencies, local policy, citizen and technical advisers, nonprofit organizations, business partners and thousands of volunteers.

Together, we collaborate to reduce nutrient pollution by improving municipal wastewater and stormwater practices, promoting habitat conservation and restoration, and developing educational outreach to homeowners and businesses. Forward thinking city and county leaders are instrumental to providing the financing and political will to translate best-science and planning into successful action.

Continued in the Herald-Tribune »


Emergency Management Disaster Planning Guides Available at Libraries and Public Buildings

The 2016 Charlotte County Disaster Planning Guide, including the Evacuation zone map, is now available for residents to pick-up at all public libraries and most government offices. This comprehensive guide is filled with life-saving information and includes, ‘Ten Things You Can Do Now to Prepare’. This list helps residents develop a detailed family action plan for any emergency situation.

This handy brochure is designed to cover a vast array of subjects as we enter the 2016 Hurricane season, including: home protection, preparing your family, insurance questions, cleaning up after a storm, generator safety and much more. The Guide shows the evacuation zones by color which helps explain the stop-sign collar program. Over 9,500 of these brightly colored vinyl markers are installed on street-sign posts across the County identifying evacuations zones. In addition to hurricanes, the Disaster Guide covers a number of other hazards that may threaten this area.

Families can obtain valuable information on how to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season by picking up a copy of this free publication today. Should your civic organization, neighborhood association or church like multiple copies delivered, please call Charlotte County Emergency Management at 833-4000 or you can arrange to pick up the books at the Charlotte County Public Safety Building on Airport Road in Punta Gorda.


DEP authorizes construction of Lake Hicpochee Hydrologic Enhancement Project

The Lake Hicpochee project is intended to restore historic water flows and improve water quality in the Caloosahatchee River

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has authorized the South Florida Water Management District to begin construction of the Lake Hicpochee Hydrologic Enhancement Project, which will help restore the lake’s historic water flows as well as improve the quality of water entering the Caloosahatchee River. This project is part of the Florida’s Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Plan, which promotes a watershed approach to protecting Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.

Located southwest of Lake Okeechobee, the project site will cover approximately 720 acres and is adjacent to the north levee of the C-43 Canal of the Caloosahatchee River. Work by local interests began in the 1800s to connect the Caloosahatchee River (C-43 Canal) to Lake Okeechobee, bisecting Lake Hicpochee into north and south portions and altering the lake’s ecology and hydrology. This project will help restore the historic lake bed and wetlands.

Project construction will include a 670-acre flow equalization basin (FEB) that can store 1,280 acre-feet of water and a 6,500-foot spreader canal along the north boundary of Lake Hicpochee in eastern Glades County. The FEB will capture and store C-19 stormwater flows before passing it through wetland marshes, resulting in improved water quality prior to its release to the Caloosahatchee River. Construction is scheduled to occur from September 2016 to November 2017.

The 2016-17 Florida First budget approved by the Legislature and Governor Rick Scott provides $16.9 million from the Amendment 1 Land Acquisition Trust Fund for an additional 2,454 acres that will provide additional water storage for the project. The Department of Environmental Protection has previously funded more than $1.2 million for land acquisition and over $500,000 for engineering design of this project.

Source: DEP news release »


SWFWMD reports gains in seagrass coverage in Charlotte Harbor

Scientists with the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program released the results of the 2014 seagrass mapping study showing a 5.2 percent increase in seagrass coverage in Charlotte Harbor.

The District maps seagrass in five estuaries spanning the five coastal counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte. Charlotte Harbor is Florida’s second largest open water estuary, and provides some of the most productive estuarine ecosystems in southwest Florida. This is the third consecutive survey to show increases for the system from 2008 values. The study also shows gains in Lemon Bay and Sarasota Bay.

The results show Charlotte Harbor gained 985 acres of seagrass between 2012 and 2014. The area now collectively supports 19,896 acres of seagrass beds, the largest amount of seagrass measured since 1996. Seagrass acreage in Charlotte Harbor has remained around 18,000 acres since 2000, making 2014 estimates another significant gain towards the protection and recovery of seagrass in the system. Lemon Bay, a smaller system, gained 166 acres, a 5.4 percent increase.

Documenting the extent of seagrass and how it changes overtime is a valuable tool for scientists throughout the state of Florida. Seagrasses are an important barometer of a bay’s health because they require relatively clean water to flourish, thus they are sensitive to changes in water clarity and quality. The District’s maps are used as a tool for measuring and tracking biological integrity of estuaries as it relates to water quality conditions. Seagrass generally grows in waters less than six feet deep, but in the clear waters around Boca Grande Pass it can be found in water 8 to 10 feet deep.

The District began its formal seagrass mapping program in 1988. As part of the program, SWIM scientists assess seagrass in five Gulf coast estuaries. Every two years maps are produced from aerial photographs and then verified for accuracy by conducting field surveys. The results are used to track trends in seagrass and to evaluate ongoing water quality improvement efforts.

Source: SWFWMD News Release »

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