The Water Channel
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The Changing Everglades
Learn how the quest for farmland and a dependable water supply and flood protection forever changed the Everglades.
Lake Okeechobee and Phosphorous
Learn why Lake Okeechobee is polluted by contaminants in stormwater runoff that flows into the lake.
Everglades Stormwater Treatment Areas
Learn how phosphorous and other pollutants are removed from the water through a natural process utilizing aquatic plants in the Everglades Stormwater Treatment Areas.
Learn About Your Watershed
Watershed and River Basin Stats
Size of Basin: Historically, the Everglades covered about 2,560,000 acres or about 4,000 square miles from the south shore of Lake Okeechobee to the mangrove estuaries of Florida Bay. Today's Everglades Protection Area comprises 863,200 acres in Water Conservation Areas 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, and 3B, 64,000 acres in the Holey Land and Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas and more than 1.5 million acres in Everglades National Park, which includes most of Florida Bay.
Major Towns: Belle Glade, Pahokee, Flamingo, and Chokoloskee
Counties: Palm Beach, Hendry, Broward, Dade, Monroe, and Collier
Major Water Features: Water Conservation Area 1, also known as the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge; Water Conservation Areas 2A, 2B, 3A, and 3B; West Palm Beach, Hillsboro, North New River, and Miami Canals; and Everglades National Park including Taylor Slough, Shark River Slough, and Florida Bay
The Everglades, also known as the Everglades Protection Area, is a unique national resource. Historically extending from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, it is the largest and most important freshwater, subtropical peat wetland in North America. The Everglades consists of sawgrass prairies, mangrove and cypress swamps, pinelands, and hardwood hammocks, as well as marine and estuarine environments. The varying water depths, diverse habitat types, and abundant food across the Everglades attract large populations of wading birds and threatened and endangered species, including wood storks, snail kites, bald eagles, Florida panthers, and American crocodiles.
The Everglades ecosystem evolved in response to low concentrations of nutrients, particularly phosphorus, and seasonal fluctuations of water levels. The primary source of nitrogen and phosphorus was rainfall. Natural disturbances, such as fire, drought, and infrequent frosts, also shaped the Everglades' ecosystem structure.
To meet the growing water needs of agriculture and people, the Everglades Drainage District established three water conservation areas (WCAs 1, 2, and 3) in 1945. Bounded by levees and connected by a series of canals, the WCAs were placed under the jurisdiction of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). These large tracts of land under public ownership provide multiple benefits, including flood protection, water supply storage, and environmental resource protection. Present flow patterns in the Everglades are controlled by managing the WCAs, pumping agricultural and urban areas, and using drainage canals in urban areas to the north and east.
The Everglades is the largest and most important freshwater wetland in North America.
WCA-1, a 143,200-acre area owned by the state and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, encompasses most of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located west and southwest of West Palm Beach. Additional lands in the Loxahatchee Refuge, but outside WCA-1, include the 1,604-acre Strazzulla Marsh to the east and about 2,550 acres to the east and west.
Covering 134,400 acres, WCA-2 is the smallest of the WCAs. Situated directly south of WCA-1, it stretches over parts of southern Palm Beach and northern Broward Counties. Historically, this area was part of the overland flow system that extended from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.
WCA-3 is over twice the size of WCA-1 and WCA-2 combined. Covering 585,600 acres in western Broward and Dade Counties, it is located west and southwest of WCA-2 and extends approximately 40 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west. Currently, it is the only WCA not entirely enclosed by levees. The L-28 Gap, a seven-mile stretch left open in the midwestern perimeter, permits overland flows to enter the area from the Big Cypress National Preserve and other drainage basins to the west.
Historically, WCA-3 was hydrologically linked to the other WCAs and ENP, as part of the overland flow system that extended from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. During this time, it received most of its water from local rainfall and overland surface flow from the northern portions of the Everglades and the Big Cypress Basin to the west.
Everglades National Park (ENP), created in 1947, forms the southernmost portion of the greater Everglades system. The park's original boundaries contained 460,000 acres; however, subsequent expansions have increased its size to the current 1,509,000 acres, including most of Florida Bay. Historically, the primary sources of water to this area were overland flow from the northern Everglades and Big Cypress marshes to the west and from rainfall. The WCAs and ENP were designated as Outstanding Florida Waters in 1978.
The Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), comprising about 741,120 acres, is situated just northwest of WCA-1. This important regional economic resource includes sugarcane farms, winter vegetable and sod farms, and cattle ranches.
Only about 50 percent of the original, historical Everglades ecosystem currently remains. Human activity and land use changes have altered water flow throughout the Everglades. Significant modifications to the movement and storage of water in the region occurred between the late 1800s and 1975, when Florida adopted nutrient water quality standards for state surface waters, including the Everglades. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, local and state drainage districts drained large portions of the Everglades and converted them to agricultural and urban uses.
Authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1948 and modified by subsequent acts, the massive Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project was designed to improve flood control and drainage and to serve other purposes for both central and southern Florida. As part of the project, the federal government constructed a comprehensive infrastructure of levees, canals, and water control structures, and exotic tree species such as melaleuca were introduced to help drain the region. These modifications significantly altered natural water quantity and the distribution and timing of flows. Water that reached the Everglades became increasingly loaded with nutrients and contaminants with concentrated discharge points, and excessive amounts of fresh water were lost to tide.
In WCA-1 (Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge), constructing and operating the C&SF Project has significantly affected the area's hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife. In WCA-2, levee construction beginning in the early 1960s eliminated the natural sheetflow pattern that created the unique Everglades system. Levees now entirely enclose WCA-2.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large portions of the Everglades were drained and converted to agricultural and urban areas. Only about 50 percent of the original Everglades remains.
The construction of levees encircling WCA-3 began in the 1950s and was completed in 1962. Hydrologic alterations to WCA-3 have resulted from several interior canal systems, which further compartmentalize the area. These include the Miami Canal, which traverses WCA-3 from the northwest (Lake Okeechobee) to the southeast (Miami); the L-67A levee, which runs southwestward from the eastern boundary toward ENP, forming the boundary between WCA-3A and WCA-3B; and the Alligator Alley borrow canal, which crosses the northern half from east to west.
Due to the use of fertilizers by local farmers and soil subsidence, the EAA is a large source of phosphorus to the Everglades. The land east of WCA-1 is predominantly urban, except for the agricultural lands in the East Coast Buffer area.
Overall, these changes in land use and hydropattern, a growing demand for water, and the introduction of excess nutrients to the Everglades have resulted in ecological changes over extensive areas of the Everglades marsh. The impacts have been observed in several trophic levels, including microbial, macrophyte, and vertebrate communities. Wildlife changes have resulted from numerous factors, including direct hunting and specimen collecting, vehicle road kills, direct loss of habitat (e.g., land development, introduced species), and large changes in the character of the habitat.
In recognition of these impacts, DEP, the SFWMD, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality and quantity in the Everglades watershed.
- The Everglades is the largest and most important freshwater, subtropical peat wetland in North America.
- The original area of almost 8.9 million acres, extending from the lakes and marshes of central Florida southward to Florida Bay, was composed of interconnected wetlands. Four million of those acres were known as the Everglades.
- The Kissimmee watershed, in central Florida, forms the headwaters of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system.
- Florida Bay, which lies between the southern edge of the Everglades and the Florida Keys, is a large, shallow, subtropical estuary covering about 850 square miles. It is the largest estuary in Florida and the largest waterbody within Everglades National Park.
- At least 22 commercially or recreationally important aquatic species are known to use Florida Bay as a nursery ground.
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Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Southwest Florida Water Management District, US Army Corps of Engineers and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations, is working on numerous projects to restore and to protect the Everglades watershed. The following are some of the current statutory mandates and the project components undertaken under these mandates that are located within or immediately adjacent to the Everglades Protection Area.
Picayune Strand (Southern Golden Gate Estates) Restoration
A $53 million federally-funded project includes restoring the Merritt Canal area of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project in Collier County. The project will restore water flow across the landscape, rehydrate drained wetlands, improve estuarine waters, and return habitat to threatened wildlife communities.
South Florida Water Management District Project Page
Watershed Restoration Program
DEP has implemented a Watershed Restoration Program to identify "impaired" waters, identify sources of pollutants, and develop plans to reduce pollution in rivers, lakes, and streams in the Everglades watershed.
DEP TMDL Program Website
DEP Everglades Website
DEP Water Resource Management Website
2008 South Florida Environmental Report (SFER), 2008
Ten years ago, DEP and the SFWMD first collaborated on a report of restoration progress in South Florida. The report captures the science behind the restoration effort. From wetland ecologists to civil engineers to budget analysts, professionals from dozens of disciplines are dedicated to this work. Few ecosystems in any part of the world are being studied and restored like America's Everglades.
Everglades Forever Act (EFA)
The 1994 EFA (Section 373.4592, Florida Statutes) promotes Everglades restoration and protection through comprehensive and innovative solutions to issues of water quality, water quantity, hydroperiod, and the invasion of exotic species in the Everglades ecosystem. Under the EFA, the SFWMD is charged with implementing the Everglades Construction Project (ECP), which includes the construction of Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), the implementation of best management practices (BMPs), hydropattern restoration, water diversions, and other improvements.
In 2003, the EFA was amended to require the implementation of the Everglades Protection Area Tributary Basins Long-Term Plan for Achieving Water Quality Goals. The plan includes an adaptive approach to ensure that progress is being made towards achieving water quality standards and the goals established in the EFA, including compliance with the phosphorus criterion established in Section 62-302.540, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.).
Current EFA projects include the following:
Stormwater Treatment Areas
These artificially constructed wetlands use natural biological processes to remove excess phosphorus in stormwater runoff before it enters the Everglades Protection Area. Since they began operating in 1999, six STAs totaling approximately 48,000 acres have prevented more than 1,000 tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades Protection Area. STA-3/4, the world's largest man-made wetland at approximately 17,000 acres, removed in excess of 240 tons of phosphorus since beginning operations in 2004.
Best Management Practices
The EFA mandates specific performance levels for controlling phosphorus discharges from the ECP basins (the EAA and C-139). In these basins, runoff is generally directed to STAs for treatment before entering the Everglades Protection Area.
The USACOE is currently requesting authorization under an Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) to deepen and widen the L-40 Borrow Canal and construct a berm adjacent to the canal and across from the STA-1E discharge structure. This will help to divert water discharged from STA-1E, minimizing direct discharges to the interior marsh of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
Non- Everglades Construction Projects
SFWMD currently operates and maintains 38 Non-Everglades Construction Project structures located in or adjacent to the Everglades Protection Area for flood control; water supply for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses; the prevention of saltwater intrusion; water supply for ENP; and the protection of fish and wildlife resources.
2003 Long-Term Plan
Phosphorus Criterion for the Everglades
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)
In 2000, the U.S. Congress approved CERP as a framework and a guide to modify the C&SF Project and to restore, protect, and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades. The primary goal of CERP is to restore the water quality, quantity, distribution and timing of flows to the Everglades ecosystem. During the planning process, 16 counties over an 18,000-square-mile area were considered for restoration activities. CERP is being implemented through a 50-50 state-federal partnership between the federal sponsor (USACOE) and the local sponsor (SFWMD). Projects that are being implemented as part of CERP include the following:
Modified Water Deliveries to ENP
The purpose of the Modified Waters Project is to enhance the hydrologic regime in the east Everglades, Northeast Shark River Slough, and ENP. To date, several features have been constructed, most notably the 8.5-square-mile area needed to mitigate for future increased flows into ENP.
The WCA-3A Decompartmentalization and Sheet Flow Enhancement Project, commonly referred to as "DECOMP," was approved to restore connectivity between the WCAs and ENP. It entails removing constructed canals, levees, and other barriers that impede the natural sheetflow of water through the historical Everglades.
The Frog Pond Water Management Area consists of nearly 500 acres and is part of a 5,385-acre former agricultural area purchased by the state in 1994 as part of the Everglades restoration. The SFWMD is working to restore freshwater flow to Taylor Slough, which originates in the western part of Frog Pond and continues into the Everglades.
L-31 N (L-30) Seepage Management Pilot Project
The goal of this project is to identify, test, and recommend features to control ground water flow and levee seepage from ENP.
Tamiami Trail Culverts
In 1928, during the construction of the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), a canal was built on the northern side of the roadbed to extract fill and road material. Over time, the canal and road intercepted or altered existing water flow to the Big Cypress National Preserve and channelized flows through small culverts and bridges. As a result, some wetland habitats receive too much fresh water, while others need more water. The proposed project will help to restore a more natural water flow patterns to the southern Big Cypress Basin and coastal areas to the south.
This ambitious plan, launched in 2004, was designed to accelerate the funding, design, and construction of certain restoration projects to realize immediate environmental benefits. The following components of Acceler8 are currently in design or have begun construction:
C-111 Spreader Project
Located in southeastern Miami-Dade County, the project comprises approximately 40,000 acres in the Frog Pond, L-31 North, and Southern Glades Projects. The acquisition of lands in the Frog Pond and L-31 Projects will increase the hydropattern of the marshes in eastern ENP and improve freshwater flow to Taylor Slough and Florida Bay. The lands acquired in the Southern Glades Project will help to restore the ecological function of ENP and Florida Bay, and will function as a recharge area for the Biscayne aquifer.
EAA Reservoir A-1
A component of the larger EAA Reservoir Project, this above-ground, 190,000-acre-foot reservoir will provide significant additional water storage in the southern region of the EAA. The project is also designed to capture, move, and store water released from Lake Okeechobee, reducing the number and volume of harmful discharges to coastal estuaries. It will aid in reducing water levels in Lake Okeechobee and provide public access and recreational opportunities.
South Florida Restoration Section
This DEP section is responsible for implementing the agency's technical, planning, and regulatory responsibilities for Everglades restoration activities. These functions involve close coordination with the lead agencies implementing restoration activities-the USACOE and SFWMD-and with staff from DEP's South and Southeast District offices. The section's responsibilities include the following:
- Providing technical support to DEP 's Office of General Counsel for litigation related to Everglades restoration
- Providing technical support for legislative activities related to Everglades restoration, including drafting legislation and coordinating with the Joint Legislative Committee on Everglades Oversight.
- Coordinating with other DEP staff, state and federal agencies, industry representatives, and other groups in developing and implementing: water quality, biological, and other research and monitoring programs in the Everglades Protection Area; evaluating water quality, biological, and other data from these programs; reviewing and preparing technical reports on topics related to Everglades restoration; implementing grants in support of Everglades research and monitoring activities; and, carrying out rulemaking activities required under the EFA.
- Providing technical assistance on water quality issues.
- Coordinating with other DEP staff, state and federal agencies, industry representatives, and other groups on the implementation of permitting activities.
DEP Everglades Technical Support Role and Responsibilities Website
Florida-Friendly Landscaping Education
DEP has supported educational efforts to encourage landscape maintenance companies and citizens to adopt Florida-friendly landscaping practices, which minimize use of fertilizers and reduce water consumption.
Florida-Friendly Landscaping Website
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Map Notes: Map shows the boundary of the Everglades watershed.
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|Sunrise over the water near 10,000 Islands, B.K. Dewey|
|Satellite image of the southern Everglades, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys, Planet Observer|
|View of sky and water at Anhinga Trail|
|Aerial view of tree Islands in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge|
|Waters of Biscayne Bay|
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Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Beth Alvi, Basin Coordinator
Phone: (850) 245-8559
Contact for: Information on TMDL development and implementation.
Ernest Marks, Environmental Administrator
Phone: (850) 245-3169
Contact for information on the Everglades Forever Act (EFA) and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) programmatic administration and regulatory oversight activities, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (NEEPP) regulatory oversight activities.
Stacey Feken, Environmental Manager
Phone: (850) 245-3176
Contact for information on the processing of the Everglades Forever Act (EFA), Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), and Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program (NEEPP) permitting.
Local Government and Water Resource Agencies
- Florida Department of Agriculture, Office of Agricultural Water Policy
- South Florida Water Management District
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Citizen Stakeholder and Watershed Organizations
- Friends of the Everglades
- Izaak Walton League
Other Watershed Resources
- Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)
- Water's Journey: Everglades
Parks and Conservation Areas
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Everglades National Park
- Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Resources and Activities for Kids
- Kid's Zone: Everglades Education, Games, and Activities for Kids
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