S-12A gate remains closed to protect sparrow habitat; gate to reopen July 22

THE EVERGLADES — As discussed in length at the July meeting of the South Florida Water Management District, the Tamiami Trail, which bisects the southern Everglades, acts as a man-made dam restricting water flow to water control structures. Some of these structures, the S-12 gates, are closed nine months of the year to protect the nesting grounds of a subpopulation of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow (CSSS).

In a June 22 letter to Mary B. Neumayr, chairwoman of the Council of Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C, Billy Cypress, chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, explained that limits on the flow of water under the Tamiami Trail to protect the nesting grounds of the CSSS cause water to back up north of the trail, damaging tribal lands.

According to last week’s report from the South Florida Water Management District, all of the Water Conservation Areas north of the Tamiami Trail are above regulation schedule due to recent rainfall.

The S-12C and S-12D gates were opened in June. The schedule called for the S-12A and S-12B gates to be opened on July 15. But only the S-12B gate was opened on that date.

What about S-12A?

“The Jacksonville District opened S-344, S-343A, S-343B and S-12B on July 15, as planned,” explained James Yocum of the US Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “We did not open S-12A after receiving a request from Everglades National Park and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delay flows from that one structure to reduce the speed with which water will enter areas recently damaged by wildfires.

“By allowing a slower flow into these areas over the next week, the marl prairie has a better chance of repairing the damage from the fires. Our calculations show that leaving the S-12A closed for this short period will result in only .067 inches difference in the elevation of the Water Conservation Area 3A, and the benefit to the natural habitat will be significant. We currently plan to open S-12A Wednesday (July 22),” he added.

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