SFWMD analyzes ‘What’s stopping flow south?’

What’s blocking flow of freshwater south to Florida Bay? That question was once again addressed at the July 9 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board.

“The proper name for this is the Central Everglades,” said Ron Bergeron. “I think there is confusion when we call the Central Everglades, nearly three quarters of a million acres of natural habitat, ‘water management areas.’ I think we should call it what it really is, the Central Everglades.

He said there are still obstacles that could stop the water flowing south.

Modified water delivery projects that started 20 years ago will soon be connected to make it possible to send more water under the Tamiami Trail, he continued.

“Taking the plug out of the bottom end of this system, of this bathtub, will provide water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay — natural, compatible water levels,” he said.

He suggested they schedule a public workshop with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about the special protections given the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, which limit flow of water under the trail nine months of the year.

“We have 70 endangered species in the Everglades.

“We want to make sure as we work with FWS that we are not altering the natural sheetflow to Florida Bay,” said Bergeron.

“We need to work with FWS but at the same time, shutting gates, directing water where it naturally flows … We cannot save the Everglades if we cannot manage the natural sheetflow to Florida Bay,” he said.

“It’s important for us to deal with the Taimiami dam, and that is what it is,” said SFWMD Governing Board Vice Chairman Scott Wagner — “these gates that can’t be opened and people are desperately requesting that the gates be open.

“It seems like we have arteries blocked,” he continued. “We have a system and our arteries have been blocked for long periods of time and it seems unnatural and it seems to be detrimental to a variety of other species and systems.

“We have to link up these systems so things will flow in a natural manner,” he said.

During the water conditions report, John Mitnik said Water Conservation Area (WCA) 2-A remains above schedule due to rainfall.

Water control structures S-12 A and S-12 B remain closed until July 15 to protect the nesting grounds of subpopulation A of the sparrow. Flow under the trail through the S-12 structures is restricted from November through July.

Water control structures S-12 C and S-12 D, which had been closed since Nov. 1, were opened June 1, he said.

Governing Board Member Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch grilled SFWMD staff about the impediments to sending more water south to Florida Bay.

“The plug in the tub is the Tamiami Trail?” she asked.

“The Tamiami Trail is one of the plugs,” Mitnik said.

The L-67 levee that separates WCA 3A and WCA 3B is another impediment to natural sheetflow.

“Is the sparrow an obstacle?” she asked.

“During certain times of the year, under certain conditions, it is,” Mitnik agreed.

“Do you consider the STAs (stormwater treatment areas) an obstacle, even though it is above that?” she continued.

“I would characterize the STAs as a consideration to meet water quality standards going into the Everglades,” he said.

“Would you consider the EAA an obstacle?” she continued.

Mitnik said there are canals to flow water through the EAA south.

“Passing water through the EAA, that is what those canals are designed to do,” Mr. Mitnik said. “Right now there is capacity (in the canals) to move water from the lake down into the Everglades.” Due to the obstructions south of the EAA, there is no capacity to take that water, explained.

“Where it rains, how it rains and what quantity it rains are all issues in moving water north to south,” he said.

If the WCAs are already full, they can’t move more lake water south.

Mitnik said seepage issues along the east side of the Everglades are also a concern. The East Coast Protection Levee separates the remaining Everglades from the area of the Everglades that was drained for urban development.

“There are many constraints to sending water south,” said Nyla Pipes of One Florida Foundation, during the public comment period.

“If we don’t do more north of the lake, if we don’t get at not only the quality issues north of the lake and but also quantity issues north of the lake, we will never solve the problems south,” she added.

“The experts at your own agency are telling you the sparrow is a constraint to sending water south,” said Mike Elfenbein, director of the Foundation for Balanced Environment Stewardship. “For 30 years what we have been doing for the sparrow does not work and it has killed the Glades.

“What’s good for the sparrow has not been good for the Everglades,” he said. “The Everglades is not just south of the trail. Please take this to the governor and have him take this to the Council on Environmental Quality.”

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