Audubon Florida News

Topic: Birding,Everglade Snail Kite,Everglades,North Everglades,Water Issues



Good Water Management is Good for Northern Everglades Birds and Wildlife

Lake Okeechobee by Tabitha Cale

As the wet season is wrapping up, we are breathing a sigh of relief for the birds and wildlife in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary ecosystems. Due to thoughtful water level management amongst the state and federal agencies this season, (and just the right amount of rain), our ecosystems are in a solid place as we enter the winter months.

During the wet season between May and October, Lake Okeechobee received slightly more than average rain.  Thanks to new management approaches and patience from the agencies, there were minimal summer discharges from the Lake to the St. Lucie, and mostly beneficial releases to Caloosahatchee Estuaries, allowing these delicate ecosystems to continue to recover from the devastation from last summer. Lake Okeechobee’s levels reached 16 feet in October, which is the considered threshold for harm. But with levels now dropping, lake levels are within the ideal zone for the end of the rainy season.

Lake Okeechobee’s ideal water level range is between 12.5 to 15.5 feet over the course of the year.  If the Lake is over 16 feet for too long, damage to the marsh occurs. The 50,000‐acre submerged marsh community is in deep enough water that plants begin dying from wave action and from the loss of light in the deep, turbid, water. Prolonged deep water eliminates the wildlife rich wet prairie communities from the Lake, areas needed to support wading bird foraging. Rapidly rising water can drown alligator and bird nests (including Everglade Snail Kites) across the marsh. Click here to learn more about the effect of lake levels on the wildlife of Lake Okeechobee.

An Everglade Snail Kite surrounded by eggs from an exotic apple snail.

Managing Lake Okeechobee’s water levels is not easy. One wet tropical storm can raise Lake levels several feet –  levels harmful to the marsh and perilous for Hoover Dike safety.  The Corps cannot lower the Lake as fast as it can rise so they must make proactive releases to avoid harmful levels.   The management plan for the Lake allowed Lake releases to the estuaries virtually all summer, but the Corps decided to minimize releases to the estuaries.  This approach prevented harmful Lake discharges.  Note that the estuaries did receive some water from polluted local basin runoff, but it was not nearly as harmful as the previous year.

Very importantly, the SFWMD experimented with new operations to flow over 200,000 acre feet of water (about 5 inches of Lake level) south to the Everglades- water that otherwise would have been released to the estuaries.

The Corps and SFWMD’s approach over the summer came with some risk, but Audubon supported it based on climate patterns and lake level trends during the summer.  Almost weekly, the Corps hosts “Periodic Scientist” calls to get input from scientists from myriad agencies and interests, including Audubon, on day-to-day system conditions from throughout the system.  This information is then used to guide weekly decisions on Lake management.

We commend the Corps and SFWMD for innovative lake management this season and look forward to a healthy spring drawdown.

EPA and Army Corps to Clarify Muddy Definitions of Wetlands and Water

posted on November 7, 2014 in Everglades,Water Issues,Wildlife

Audubon_WOTUS_FactSheet_CoverThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed a new rule clarifying Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other waters critical to Florida’s and the nation’s water resources, wildlife and economy.  Because of confusion created by two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 over what waters are protected or not, many have been at increased risk of pollution and destruction for more than a decade.  The sad result is wetland losses have been increasing nationwide for the first time since the 1980’s.  Just as sad is a torrent of misinformed objections to this very reasonable, science-based rule from development interests who want to keep this confused status quo.

Audubon Florida summarizes this important habitat and resource issue in a new “Clean Water Act Rule” Fact Sheet – click here to read itTo read a two-page EPA summary of the proposed rule’s clarifications of what water resources are protected by the Clean Water Act, click here.

Clean drinking water, flood protection, downstream fisheries, wildlife habitat and everyone’s local economy depend on clear standards and rules leading to healthier water and wetlands. Please send a letter of support for this proposed rule to EPA before the end of the public comment period on November 14, 2014.  If the rule is not approved, wetland losses and degradation of water will continue to accelerate in Florida and across the United States.

2014 Everglades System Status Report Offers Signs of Hope

posted on August 20, 2014 in Everglades

LakeOkeechobee_tcale_webRECOVER (REstoration COordination and VERification) is composed of a team of scientists and researchers who are tasked with evaluating the health and function of the Everglades Ecosystem. Every few years the RECOVER team releases their System Status Report, a document that uses performance measures to evaluate the progress of Everglades restoration. Last week the 2014 Report was released. This important report provides information on the ecological health of the Everglades.  Data and analysis from multiple government agencies show that while progress is being made, there is still work to be done.

Projects that have been completed, or are nearly complete offer signs of hope that restoration is working. Picayune Strand, Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, and C-111 South Dade projects have all measurably improved hydrology in the areas where they have been put in place. Improved hydrology means healthier habitats – and that’s good news for wildlife. In the Southern Everglades, better conditions have led to increased nesting of Roseate Spoonbills and endangered American crocodiles.

Conditions in Lake Okeechobee have also improved. Because Lake levels were kept from getting too high or too low, underwater plant communities are healthier, fish populations have increased, and more of the Lake’s littoral marsh is suitable for wading bird foraging.

roseate-spoonbill-mrclean1982While these improvements are encouraging, there are other areas in the Everglades that continue to suffer ecological declines. Authorization and construction of additional restoration projects are needed to reverse declines, increase habitat health, and allow the historic abundance of wildlife to return to the River of Grass. One of these projects needed most urgently is the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). Once completed CEPP will help rehydrate the parched wetlands of the Central Everglades, and improve the health of Florida Bay.

For more information, please click here for an article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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.

Kissimmee River Restoration Adventure with the Everglades Coalition

Kissimmee EvCo tourWhere can you see Swallow tailed Kites, numerous Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Wild Turkeys, and one Roseate Spoonbill within hours on the last day of July? Try the newly restored section of the Kissimmee River.

Last week, Audubon enjoyed partnering with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to tour the Kissimmee River Restoration Project with over thirty of our environmental allies at the annual Everglades Coalition Retreat. The Everglades Coalition  is comprised of over 50 environmental organizations, including many of our closest friends in the conservation community. It was a great opportunity to get out with friends to see the magic of this restoration project.

Kissimmee Avon kiteKissimmee River Restoration started in 1992. It is now over 90% complete. In the 1960’s, the Kissimmee River was channelized into a large canal for flood control. This huge canal drained the water from miles of important habitat for birds and other wildlife. The Kissimmee River restoration project reestablishes miles of the natural winding Kissimmee River, and restores miles of wetlands and floodplains in the Northern Everglades. Already, populations of birds are higher than what was even projected for post restoration.

And, the project is not even operating at full capacity yet. Once it is complete and operating in a few years, the results should be stunning.

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray and SFWMD’s David Colangelo showed us areas of the restored river and floodplain. The winding oxbows of the restored rivers were vibrant with paul kissimmeevegetation.

Endangered Everglade Snail Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were all around.

We could hear the cackles and laughter of Limpkins just yards away in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park.

Many thanks go to Everglades Coalition co-chairs Cara Capp of National Parks Conservation Association and Jason Totoui of Everglades Law Center for making this trip happen! It was refreshing to get out and enjoy this special place together.

 

 

Advocates Stand Up for the Kissimmee River and Kissimmee Chain of Lakes

Kissimmee river picRecently, Florida’s environmental advocates demanded that the South Florida Water Management District fully protect water for the Kissimmee River Restoration project and its remarkable natural system. The message was clear. Don’t give water needed for restoring the natural system to utilities or other consumptive uses.

The meeting was held by the SFWMD to move forward a water reservation to protect water for Kissimmee River restoration project. 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.

Our team attended with Kissimmee Valley Audubon, Orange County Audubon, Audubon of the Western Everglades, and other allies like the Everglades Foundation and One Florida Foundation.

After two decades of work and over $900 million in public investment, the precedent setting Kissimmee River Restoration Project is now over 90% complete. This project transforms miles of the drained Kissimmee floodplain and channelized river to a winding river and wetland paradise.

The River and its Chain of Lakes support diverse wildlife. Over 98 species of wading and wetland dependent birds live there, including Swallow Tailed Kites, Whooping Cranes, and Audubon’s Crested CaraCaras.

Failing to protect water for Kissimmee restoration through this legal tool could have a domino effect on the entire ecosystem from Kissimmee Valley to Florida Bay and coastal estuaries. Getting the right amount of water at the right time is extremely important to support life throughout the ecosystem.Kissimmee Snail Kite

Now, there is pressure from water supplies in the Central Florida area. Utilities and water managers are considering tapping up to 25 million gallons per day from the Kissimmee Basin for water supply. Audubon and our environmental allies demand that water for the restoration project is fully protected. We request that the water management districts increase water conservation methods  to promote a more sustainable use of water in the region.

We will keep you updated on the progress of the rule. There will be several more public meetings and we’ll need your voices to speak up for Florida’s birds!

For additional information, please see the following news clips:

Fracking in Florida Update: August 2014

posted on August 4, 2014 in Everglades,Oil Drilling,State Government

takeaction_stopfrackinginfloridaLast spring, you added your name to Audubon’s petition to show the oil and gas industry that Floridians stand united to protect Florida’ water resources. Your strong voice helped defeat two controversial fracking bills poised for legislative action.

At the time, there were noplanned fracking projects in Florida, but there was deep concern about HB 71 and HB 157These two bills cut off the public’s right to know the details of what chemicals are used during the fracking process.

Much has happened since that time. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been at odds with the Dan A. Hughes Company over drilling operations in Collier County that crossed the line into exploratory fracking.

At the end of 2013, the company utilized a procedure called “acid stimulation” to increase the flow of oil coming out of their Collier Hogan well. Such extreme extraction techniques were not authorized by the DEP permit, triggering a train of legal actions and communication gridlock.

DEP ended the year by issuing a cease & desist order to the Dan A. Hughes Company, followed by a Consent Order which culminated in all of the company’s permits being revoked on July 18, 2014. Along the way, the Dan A. Hughes company resisted disclosing full and complete information about the chemicals used in this process, which was precisely Audubon’s concern about HB 71 and HB 157.

The Collier County Commission played a strong role in demanding answers and holding regulators accountable, as did many of you as these battles waged on. Count on fracking being a topic for discussion during the 2015 Florida Legislative Session and know that together we will make our voices heard to oppose this harmful drilling technique.

Thank you for all that you do for Florida.

National Research Council Releases 2014 “Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades”

posted on July 11, 2014 in Everglades

progresstowardrestoringtheeverglades-cover_2014The National Research Council released a new report assessing progress towards Everglades Restoration. This independent review stresses the need to re-invest in restoration efforts, noting that the ecosystem continues to be in peril. Insufficient funding and delays in project authorization have slowed the pace of restoration efforts, leaving this unique habitat cutoff from the freshwater flows that keep the Everglades healthy. View Audubon’s summary of the Report here.

Audubon urges state and federal decision-makers to heed the Review’s call to reinvest in science and monitoring, complete the Central Everglades Planning Project and accelerate restoration efforts in the face of rising seas and other impacts of climate change. 

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.

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