Last week, on a hazy smoked filled afternoon, Ed and I flew over Lake Okeechobee and the once mighty Kissimmee River. There was the normal stress involved with me giving Ed directions and the fun of an adventure. It went something like this:
“Oh there it is, the Kissimmee’s opening to the lake, over there!”
I can’t fly north of “over there,” it’s off limits; it’s a near a bombing range or air force base…” says Ed, shooting me a serious glance.
“What a bombing range-air force base? You’re kidding, close to of some of the state’s richest wildlife habitat? How symbolic…”
Ed rolls his eyes, I can feel it. But he tries harder…
Somehow, Ed talks to Miami Air Traffic Conrol and we get lucky. It is a Sunday and we are allowed to fly over at least part of the area I wish to see.
On the way, we fly over the southwest area of the lake’s agricultural lands. The hand of humankind is reflected in organized, perfect sized boxes of agriculture and straight canals.
We veer off to the northwestern area of the Lake Okeechobee where earth and water meet; on this side of the lake the hand of the Creator still evident. Little specks of light blend together in a blinding symphony of light.
We near the area in Okeechobee County where the mouth of the once great Kissimmee meets Lake Okeechobee. The straightened canal looks out of place among the lush greenery and a small town is evident. There are people here. Flooding is an issue.
It is great seeing “it all” from above as I have never really been able to figure out on a map where the Kissimmee River restoration is happening. It starts about 20 miles north of the lake.
The Kissimmee river was once 103 miles of wildlife/fish filled meandering oxbows, but it was canalized to a depth of 30 feet as C-38 from 1962-71. This was part of the Army Corp of Engineers and the Central and South Florida “Flood Control Project” of 1954. The state had asked for help after two back to back hurricanes and wide spread flooding and destruction in 1945. The state got help but with untended consequences…
The Kissimmee River that once meandered south to Lake Okeechobee as part of a two mile wide flood plane now shot down to the lake with grave environmental effects that included the destruction of the estuaries, St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatechee.
Since 1994, around 23 miles of the now 56 mile long canal, C-38, from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee has been/is being backfilled and considered part of “the” most ambitious environmental restoration project in the world.
Recently, the ACOE and SFWMD have been in a dispute over the completion of the restoration project. The project is tremendously expensive requiring federal and state funding which has not come easy since 2008. The two agencies “cost share” in its completion. Word is they are “working things out…”
The long term goal is to continue the restoration of at least 20 miles more of the 56 miles of the canal.
In light of the dying Indian River Lagoon, it is important to see that restoration can be accomplished. Mother Nature is quick to rebound once given the chance.
The Kissimmee’s restoration is critical, as the polluted waters coming from Orlando south carry sediment, and urban and agricultural runoff into the lake. As we know, when the lake gets too full the water is diverted to the estuaries because the water is not presently allowed to flow south, as the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) is located there along with cities of people.
So we here along the St Lucie Indian River Lagoon, are fighting a two front war. One north and the other south of the lake. We are winning in the north because the ACOE and SFWMD recognized their/our mistakes, and have been working since 1994. We are also getting closer in the to finding a safe way to “move the water south…” CEPP (Central Everglades Planning Project) is not looking good right now, but the pressure is on, and even Tallahassee is saying “move the water south!”
We must have inspiration or we will never complete our goal of saving the estuaries. The Kissimmee River is a place to look and find hope.
2014 Google Earth map of restored area of Kissimmee River.
Great write up on Kissimmee from 2006 SFWMD: (http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/krr_exec_summary.pdf)
Sun Sentinel photos: (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orl-kissimmee-river-photos,0,460375.photogallery?index=orl-kissimmee-river-rend20100103202823)DEP ( http://www.protectingourwater.org/watersheds/map/kissimmee_river/)