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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.



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Lake Okeechobee and Phosphorous

Learn why Lake Okeechobee is polluted by contaminants in stormwater runoff that flows into the lake.



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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.



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Learn About Your Watershed

Everglades West Coast Watershed

  • Overview
  • Restoration News
  • Watershed Maps
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  • Contacts/Resources
Image of Everglades West Coast watershed is characterized by mangrove-dominated estuaries along the coast. The area contains the largest mangrove swamps in the state.
Everglades West Coast watershed is characterized by mangrove-dominated estuaries along the coast. The area contains the largest mangrove swamps in the state. Jennifer Nelson, FDEP

Watershed Stats

Size of Basin: 3,699 square miles

Major Towns: Bonita Springs, Estero, Fort Myers Beach, San Carlos Park, Naples, Marco Island, Golden Gate, Goodland, Immokalee, Everglades City, Chokoloskee, and the Seminole and Miccosukee Indian Reservations

Counties: Lee, Collier, and Hendry Counties

Major Water Features:
Estero Bay, Estero River, Imperial River, Spring, Creek, Mullock Creek, Hendry Creek, Cocohatchee River and Canal, Corkscrew Swamp, Lake Trafford, Gordon River, Haldeman Creek, Henderson Creek, C-139 Canal, Barron River Canal, Tamiami Canal, Rookery Bay, Faka-Union Canal, Fakahatchee Strand, Big Cypress Swamp, L-28 and L-28 Interceptor Canals, North and West Big Cypress Feeder Canals, and numerous other tidal creeks and bays

Overview

The Everglades West Coast watershed is characterized by mangrove-dominated estuaries along the coast, with salt marsh habitats occurring landward of the mangrove zone. The area contains the largest mangrove swamps in the state. The interior parts of the region show remnants of prehistoric shorelines forming sand ridges, interspersed with pine-palmetto flatwoods and large wetland strands. The region may have contained the state's greatest acreage of hydric pine flatwoods, which have significant ecological and hydrological value.

A major feature of the basin is its many protected natural areas, which provide a rich diversity of habitat and native animal life, including a number of federally threatened and endangered species. Fifty-nine percent of the basin's lands are preserved as conservation areas. This includes major parks and preserves such as the 700,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve and 70,000-acre Fakahatchee Strand Preserve and State Park. While most of these lands are in public ownership, the National Audubon Society owns one major conservation area, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The following major conservation areas found within or adjacent to the Everglades West Coast watershed area: Cape Romano-Ten Thousand Islands Aquatic Preserve (53,913 acres), Collier-Seminole State Park (7,271 acres), Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (23,370 acres), Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (10,895 acres), Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve (11,300 acres), Estero Bay State Buffer Preserve (9,757 acres), Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (26,529 acres), Koreshan State Historic Site (193 acres), Lovers Key State Recreation Area (1,616 acres), Picayune Strand State Forest (65,436 acres), Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve (70,000 acres), and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge (19,650 acres).

Human Impacts

Image of The 1,500-acre Lake Trafford is being restored to improve wildlife habitat and quality of water flowing to Corkscrew Swamp and Fakahatchee Strand.
The 1,500-acre Lake Trafford is being restored to improve wildlife habitat and quality of water flowing to Corkscrew Swamp and Fakahatchee Strand. SFWMD

Originally occupied for many centuries by the Calusa Indians and their ancestors (from 500 to 1500 A.D.), modern population growth began in the late 1870s, although the population remained small for many decades because of constant flooding.

Land use in the watershed is primarily urban along the Gulf Coast, while agriculture, conservation land uses, and some mineral extraction (e.g., oil drilling) dominate the interior. The watershed has one of the state's highest rates of land conversion to agriculture, primarily citrus. Other important crops include sugarcane, bell peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, squash, and cucumbers. Cattle ranching is also extremely prominent in the region.

The watershed has one of the state's highest rates of land conversion to agriculture, primarily to citrus.

An important aspect of the Everglades West Coast Basin is its large-scale, "planned" residential development projects such as Golden Gate Estates, constructed in the 1960s. During this process, much of the land was dissected by freshwater and estuarine residential canals, roads were constructed, and lots were platted and sold as residential homesites. Many of those platted lots still lie vacant because of failed housing schemes, and today, removal of roads, plugging canals, and adding other structural features is a priority to reduce freshwater drainage, elevate ground water levels, and replenish wetland habitat.

In recent years, the coastal areas of the basin have had the highest growth rate in Florida. From 1980 to 1990, the regional population grew by 65 percent. From 1990 to 2000, it increased another 42 percent. The Naples metropolitan area is among the fastest growing in the United States. In spite of human impacts, the basin still supports large areas that contain diverse natural communities and species.

In recognition of these impacts, DEP, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality and quantity in the Everglades West Coast Basin.

Interesting Facts:

  • The basin is home to the largest number of Florida panthers in the state.
  • The ghost orchid, one of the world's rarest flowers, is found in Fakahatchee Strand.
  • Although not economically significant, small quantities of oil and gas have been produced in the region since 1943.
  • In the 1980s, irrigated agricultural acreage in Collier and Lee Counties increased by 99 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
  • Projected increases in citrus acreage for Collier, Hendry, and Lee Counties from 1990 to 2010 are 150 percent, 100 percent, and 50 percent, respectively.
  • Hendry County is Florida's third leading county in beef cattle production, with 97,000 head. Lee and Collier Counties also have significant numbers of beef cattle, with a combined herd of 22,000 head.
  • Almost two-thirds of the watershed's lands are preserved as conservation areas.
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