While the Caloosahatchee has been getting sufficient to excess rainfall the past year, Florida Bay, located at the southern end of the Everglades ecosystem is facing serious ecological damage from an ongoing drought that has been isolated over the lower east coast and Everglades. The severe drought has persisted for the first 8 months of 2015 with that region suffering from 87% below normal rainfall. With no connection to Lake O and low inflow from the Water Conservation Areas, rainfall is critical to provide needed freshwater to Everglades National Park and Florida
The drought conditions and lack of flow have caused hyper-saline conditions of 60-70 psu, over twice the normal salinity. The lack of freshwater flow has also dessicated soils upstream and even exposed some to salt that will take sustained freshwater flow over a period of time to flush out. Add to this high temperatures in the shallow bay and the oxygen drops to harmful levels. Sulfide accumulation in the bay bottom combined with high temperature and hyper-salinity has triggered a seagrass die off. The dead seagrass decomposes feeding algal blooms that further drop oxygen levels and obscure light from getting to grass that could provide oxygen. This downward spiral is the anatomy of an ecological collapse that literally takes decades to recover from. Unfortunately we’ve seen this before. It was just such an unfortunate series of events that conspired in the 1980s that brought attention to the need for Everglades restoration and prompted an expansive seagrass research program in the Bay.
The solution is in Everglades restoration, and some help from mother nature in the form of rainfall. Full implementation of the C111 spreader canal project and advancing the Central Everglades Planning Project, known as CEPP, are critical to getting water moving south at the southern end of the system. Operational changes that prioritize water supply deliveries to natural systems -as envisioned in Florida’s Model Water Code- instead of prioritizing the growing demand from permitted users, is needed here and throughout Florida to maintain healthy, resilient natural resources that are the driving force of Florida’s economy.