Audubon Florida News

Topic: Lake Okeechobee

A New Northern Everglades Water Quality Project Breaks Ground

posted on November 5, 2014 in Lake Okeechobee

Photo by Paul GrayLast week, the Spring Lake Improvement District (SLID) broke ground on a new project that will clean up water before it flows to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. This innovative project will store and treat stormwater from their property before it enters Arbuckle Creek, on its way to Lake Istokpoga, and then on to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. 

The ground-breaking was initiated by (left to right) Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell, Gene Schriner,  project engineer, Brian Acker of SLID, Marty Mielke, Senator Grimsley’s office, Representative Cary Pigman, and Highlands County Commissioner Greg Harris.

Currently, polluted stormwater from Lake Wales Ridge, Sebring Regional Airport and U.S. 98  flows the residential areas around Spring Lake. The new project  will capture this water and treat it in stormwater ponds  before it flows on to Arbuckle Creek and areas throughout the Everglades. In addition to these water quality benefits,  Spring Lake Improvement District plans to manage the area for wildlife viewing and enjoyment for its residents.

The 70-acre system is funded through a $416,000 legislative appropriation to the SLID with $625,000 of matching funds from a DEP grant. Sen. Denise Grimsley and Rep. Cary Pigman helped obtain legislative funding, with support from Audubon. This project is part of an admirable $4 million effort on the part of this small District to improve water management.

Photo by Paul GrayThe  Spring Lake Improvement District is an independent special district that provides services to Spring Lake, a community on the northern shore of Lake Istokpoga in Highlands County. The Spring Lake community was designed 50 years ago and has experienced stormwater runoff problems in recent years.

Audubon scientist Paul Gray has been following this project in its development and notes, “This project has the type of vision that helps meet stormwater goals for this community, by adding an amenity for its residents and protecting Arbuckle Creek and Lake Istokpoga, which are the natural beauty that attracted the development in the first place.”

Beautiful Arbuckle Creek will be a beneficiary of the Spring Lake project.

For more information on this project, please click here.

Excessive Nutrients Threaten Health of Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem

posted on August 8, 2014 in Everglades,Lake Okeechobee,Water Issues

Audubon_ExcessiveNutrients_LakeOkeechobee_factsheet_coverimageJust a little south of the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee is in need of help. Pollution continues to enter the Lake at alarming rates from fertilizer, stormwater, and wastewater in the Okeechobee watershed.

Audubon has produced a new fact sheet that explains why high phosphorus is a problem for our treasured lake and gives a vision to fix it. Click here to download. Please feel free to share this document on social media, or print and distribute at your next chapter meeting or community gathering.


A Restored Kissimmee River in Sight

kissimmeeriver_restoredThe remarkable Kissimmee River Restoration Project is approaching completion after decades of construction. Agencies are preparing to operate the finished project in the coming years.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is moving forward with a rule to protect water for the restoration project. The rule, known as a water reservation, is a tool under Florida law to protect water for fish and wildlife or public health and safety. Once the rule is developed, it will legally protect the quantity and timing of water flowing into the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and floodplain for the natural system

At a public SFWMD meeting last week, Audubon advocates and environmental partners told water managers that water for Kissimmee Restoration must be fully protected. Water for our ecosystem cannot be siphoned away to utilities and other thirsty water users in the Central Florida area. Click here for more information about this meeting.

Once complete, Kissimmee River Restoration Project will be the largest functioning restoration project of its kind in the world. The project restores 40 miles of the river and floodplain and almost 25,000 acres of wetlands. The benefits of the project are already unmistakable, and it isn’t even fully operational yet.

Earlier this month, Audubon’s Everglades Conservation Team joined our environmental partners in the Everglades Coalition on a trip to see the Kissimmee River Restoration project first hand. The group saw Swallow-tailed Kites, Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Crested Caracaras, and much more! Click here to read more about this trip.

The Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem: A Delicate Balance of Water

MacStone_LakeOkechobee-3614The marshes of Lake Okeechobee are a paradise of biodiversity. Everglade Snail Kites, Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Herons, and a plethora of other wildlife abound in this great ecosystem at the heart of the Greater Everglades.

For this incredible habitat to thrive, Lake Okeechobee’s water levels cannot be too high or too low. Marsh habitat drowns when water is too deep. When water is too low, marsh habitat dries up and is destroyed.

Last century, the Northern Everglades faced serious alterations to its natural system, as developers ditched and drained land. As a result, the natural system is off kilter and Lake Okeechobee now experiences rapid fluctuations in water levels. This results in harmful effects to the delicate Lake ecosystem. Water managers send large releases of Lake water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries for flood control. These releases have long term negative impacts on their ecosystems and local communities.

In addition, some water users in the south demand the Lake function as a reservoir for their water supply needs, despite the fragile nature of the ecosystem.

Lake Okeechobee’s natural balance of life must be protected. The Audubon Everglades Conservation Team advocates to state and federal partners to manage Lake Okeechobee with its precious ecosystem in mind. The long term fix is to store more water north of the Lake. Audubon supports Kissimmee River Restoration, easement programs, and partnerships with ranchers and landowners to achieve this goal. There are many exciting Everglades restoration initiatives that can help.

Lake Okeechobee’s water levels require proper management to protect this treasured habitat for years to come. Click the link below to download our fact sheet to learn more about the liquid heart of the Everglades. Please feel free to print and distribute at you next Audubon Chapter meeting or community gathering.

Click here to download fact sheet.

Lake Okeechobee: A Perfect Ten

posted on April 28, 2014 in Everglade Snail Kite,Lake Okeechobee

happinesswebAudubon’s Jane Graham details her most recent expedition on Lake Okeechobee:

Last week, Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray and I ventured out on Lake Okeechobee. Our crew included Congressman Tom Rooney, Kevin Powers of the SFWMD Governing Board and his kids Sarah and Paul, and Don Fox of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

There we were amidst blue skies, a floating garden of white and yellow water lilies, and endangered Everglade Snail Kites gliding twenty feet from the boat.

“If you were to rate the Lake today, what would you say it is?” Kevin asked Don.

A perfect ten.”

lilyonlakeoWe saw Great Blue Herons, White Ibises, Belted Kingfishers, Purple Gallinules, and a variety of coots and ducks. No visible alligators, but we did see a few large splashes as gators avoided the oncoming boats.

When people hear “Lake Okeechobee”, they generally think of an unending pool of dirty water stretching for miles beyond the horizon. This is not quite the truth. About one-third of Lake Okeechobee is shallow marsh around its perimeter– filled with clear clean water that is prime habitat for a variety of wading birds, migratory birds, bass, and other wildlife.

Lake Okeechobee is located at the end of the funnel for numerous migratory routes across the country. Sandhill Cranes, ducks, and White Pelicans from the Great Lakes region, shorebirds from the Arctic Circle, and Neotropical migrants such as warblers, orioles, and cuckoos from the northeastern forests all enjoy this beautiful American water resource.

kite with snailLate April is the height of the dry season, so the Lake’s water level is receding. Right now it is just over 13 ft. This is healthy and natural for the lake.  A few years ago, the same areas of marsh so abundant with life today were barren. When the Lake had risen too high -above 16 feet for extended periods of time, 70 square miles of marsh were completely drowned out.

TomandPaulwebToday, the Lake is managed within the ideal range is between 12.5 and 15.5 feet, with some exceptions.  A few years ago the Army Corps’ changed the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule for public safety reasons and ecological concerns. The depth of the water must ebb and flow with the seasons, not staying too high or too low for too long. When the water recedes, the seed bank is still there and the vegetation naturally grows back.

Lake Okeechobee is gorgeous right now. Get out there and see it!

Everglades Birds Are Talking. But Are We Listening?

posted on February 28, 2014 in Everglades,Lake Okeechobee,North Everglades,Wildlife

Roseate spoonbills and other shorebirds hunt on the mud flats during low tidesRoseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, and White Ibis are not just beautiful and iconic inhabitants of the Everglades. They are important indicators of ecosystem health. Each year, Audubon Florida’s Everglades Conservation Team evaluates population numbers and nesting data to understand the progress of Everglades restoration.

Audubon’s scientists have finished evaluating the 2013 data. Our team is pleased to report that there were significant signs of progress for wading birds in the Everglades during this time.

Nesting efforts in 2013 were 57% higher than the average of the last three years. Over 48,200 wading bird nests were recorded.

The most encouraging data was from areas where restoration projects have improved freshwater flows. Early results from habitat impacted by the new C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project are providing hope for Florida’s wading birds.

The recently completed C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project created a nine mile hydraulic ridge that increases natural flows into Taylor Slough, a critical flow path that carries water through the heart of Everglades National Park and into Florida Bay. Data from the first year of operation suggests measurable improvement in Roseate Spoonbill habitat – one of Audubon’s priority Atlantic Flyway species.

While restoration work is improving Everglades habitat, important work remains. Despite the positive 2013 nesting data, wading bird numbers are still well below restoration targets. Some species are doing better than others. Great Egrets and White Ibis have shown stable population growth, while populations of smaller birds like Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, and Snowy Egrets have declined.

The future of Florida’s wading birds are dependent on projects that restore the natural flow of freshwater to the Everglades. Audubon Florida is working to make sure that key restoration projects like the Central Everglades Planning Project and the next phase of the Tamiami Trail Bridge are implemented as quickly as possible.

For more information, please download Audubon’s latest Fact Sheet: 2013 Wading Bird Nesting in the EvergladesPlease feel free to print and share at your next Audubon Chapter meeting or community event.

BREAKING: Recommendations for Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin Released

posted on November 4, 2013 in Lake Okeechobee,State Government,Water Issues

tall capitolTomorrow, State Senators will convene at the Capitol in Tallahassee for the final meeting of the Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and the Lake Okeechobee Basin. The goal of tomorrow’s meeting is to formalize the committee’s final recommendations.

Click here for the draft report from the Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Okeechobee Basin.

“The report is a good starting point for major projects to reduce the flow of water into and out of Lake Okeechobee,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida’s executive director. “We are recommending a stronger program to reduce pollution and meet water quality standards. And we recommend that the committee give a full endorsement to the Central Everglades Plan as a way to move more water from the Lake south into the Everglades.” 

In August 2013, thousands of Audubon Advocates added their name to our recommendation letter to Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City), Chair of the Senate Select Committee. Thanks to the voices of dedicated nature-lovers like you, many of Audubon’s recommendations have been followed.

For a more comprehensive look at Audubon’s recommendations, please see the following documents:

Joint Legislative Budget Commission Approves $2.7 Million for Estuaries

posted on September 13, 2013 in Lake Okeechobee,Water Issues

LO water in the Atlantic 2013The Joint Legislative Budget Commission met on September 12, 2013 and approved a $2.7 million budget amendment that would allow the South Florida Water Management District to move forward with short term projects to help reduce harmful discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Mary Jean Yon, Audubon’s Legislative Director, presented a letter of support for these operational changes and emergency water storage on public and private lands to improve the water management in the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin. Audubon’s endorsement was warmly received by Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) who co-chairs the Legislative Budget Commission and also chairs the Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin.

Audubon continues to work closely with the Select Committee to promote and implement water management and water quality solutions for the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin. Click here for more info.

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray Discusses Solutions on Indian River Lagoon with Senator Bill Nelson

posted on August 16, 2013 in Everglades,Lake Okeechobee,Water Issues

Sen. Nelson examines dirty water from the Indian River Lagoon.  To his left is State Representative Debbie Mayfield and Martin County Commissioner John Haddox.U.S. Senator Bill Nelson held a public roundtable in Stuart on Thursday to discuss the environmental crisis occurring in the Indian River Lagoon. Senator Nelson called the meeting in response to recent releases of massive amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee that spawned harmful algal blooms. Seagrasses, oysters and other lagoon life have been dying or fleeing the estuary.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Audubon's Dr. Paul GrayAudubon’s Dr. Paul Gray was an invited panelist along with 17 others including representatives from local governments, the Florida House of Representatives, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and scientists from public and private entities. The round table began with fact finding discussion about present conditions and concluded with an exchange of ideas on what needs to be done to address the situation.

Dr. Gray emphasized Audubon’s priorities for the southern Indian River Lagoon region. Audubon Florida’s solutions include:

  1. Expediting progress on Everglades restoration projects to reduce coastal estuaries releases and improve year-round health of the estuaries, specifically the Central Everglades Planning Project, C-44 project, and C-43 project.
  1. Increasing water storage north of Lake Okeechobee and in the estuaries through partnerships with landowners, and maximizing benefits from the Kissimmee River restoration.
  2. Improving water quality by updating and implementing state rules to limit the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that enters the Northern Everglades watershed from agricultural and urban sources.
  3. Increasing funding for the South Florida Water Management District to help meet these goals.

The dividing line between polluted Okeechobee water and the clean Atlantic Ocean is visible as much as five miles out to sea.  (photo by Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lipisch, Town of Sewalls Point)Download Crisis in the Indian River Lagoon: Solutions for an Imperiled Ecosystem for more information on Audubon’s proposed solutions.

On August 22, State Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) will chair a Senate Select Committee on Lake Okeechobee and the Indian River Lagoon. Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper has been invited to present Audubon’s solutions to the Committee.

You can join in the effort to help the Indian River Lagoon by signing on to Audubon’s solutions letter to Sen. Negron by clicking here.


Fact Sheet: Crisis in the Indian River Lagoon

posted on August 15, 2013 in Lake Okeechobee,Publications,Water Issues,Wildlife

Audubon_IndianRiverLagoon_Solutions_CoverImage_August2013There is an ecological crisis in Indian River Lagoon. Large quantities of water with high levels of nutrient pollution from Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Basin are being discharged to tide, leading to toxic algae blooms in the Lagoon’s waters. There have been numerous, mysterious reports of deaths of Pelicans, manatees, and dolphins in the area. Harmful bacteria have also been detected in some areas, making the water dangerous for human contact.

Learn more about this issue and what Audubon Florida recommends to protect the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee Estuary by downloading the Crisis in the Indian River Lagoon: Solutions for an Imperiled Ecosystem fact sheet here.

Next »