During the past four years, Audubon Florida has been working with landowners and South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board members and staff to help ramp up a program that takes advantage of the natural landscape and widely distributed opportunities throughout the Northern Everglades. The objective is to temporarily store more water in the Everglades Headwaters and slow the flow of both water and polluting nutrients toward Lake Okeechobee. See map to left.
Utilizing both public and private lands, the South Florida Water Management District has now put in place projects in the area north of Lake Okeechobee or in its tributary basins that manage 138,000 acre feet of water that otherwise would cause environmental problems downstream. SFWMD has more projects in the planning stages which would deal with 230,000 additional acre feet of water.
Part of this effort is the “Dispersed Water Management” program operated by SFWMD. Last year, following Audubon’s recommendations, and incorporating an expanded budget also endorsed by Audubon, SFWMD entered into contracts with 8 ranchland property owners to store water temporarily on their properties under a “payment for services” program.
In total, these projects would add another 4778 acre feet of water management capability to the system north of Lake Okeechobee. Today, only 9 months after the board approved the projects, 5 projects totaling 3,778 acre feet are already substantially completeand entering operations. Two more projects, with 626 additional acre feet of capacity are under construction.
One of the most noteworthy features of this program is the speed with which actual construction and operation can be undertaken. Having water management projects in the ground an operational within a year of approval is almost unheard of in terms of water management project timelines. See map to left.
At Audubon Florida’s encouragement, the South Florida Water Management District is planning a second round of “requests for proposals” to solicit more landowner participation in the Dispersed Water Management Program this year. That will produce a new crop of additional water management projects in the Kissimmee watershed.
Audubon Florida will continue and expand its efforts to work with Kissimmee Basin cattle ranch landowners as we move forward to restore the Northern Everglades.