The Caloosahatchee River and Estuary are west coast treasures, enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Recognizing that the health of the river and its estuary is essential to the overall way of life for area residents, the South Florida Water Management District considers protection and improvement of the Caloosahatchee watershed an agency priority.
Extensive historical modifications to the Caloosahatchee River and its watershed have altered the hydrology of the region. As a result, heavy rainfall can bring large influxes of fresh water into the Caloosahatchee Estuary from stormwater runoff within the basin, Lake Okeechobee releases or both. The increased freshwater flows affect salinity levels and water quality in the estuary, potentially causing environmental harm.
To address these issues, the South Florida Water Management District is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal, state and local partners on a variety of strategies to improve the health of the Caloosahatchee Estuary.
Where is the Latest Data for the Caloosahatchee?
Using SFWMD's monitoring network and technical information, a wealth of data is available on this website for the District's 16-county region, including the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary:
Operational Planning – Find weekly operational reports and other information on the current state of the system and water control operations, including water quality and environmental conditions such as salinity levels, Lake Okeechobee water control structure operations recommendations, rainfall outlook models and more.
Live Data – Check real-time water levels in lakes, canals and waterways or see whether coastal gates and other water control structures are open or closed.
Rainfall Maps – See maps with historical rainfall totals, current radar-based rainfall estimates and more.
DBHYDRO – Search this extensive environmental database for historical or up-to-date surface or groundwater information, as well as meteorological, hydrogeological and water quality data.
Data and Reports from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Beginning in the late 19th century, the Caloosahatchee River and its watershed underwent extensive modifications that drastically altered the hydrology of the region. The once shallow and crooked river was deepened and widened into a regulated waterway that was connected to Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes for navigation, water supply and flood control purposes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps bases operational decisions – whether to retain or release water in the massive lake – on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the South Florida Water Management District.
In a fixed regional water management system with limited storage, the Corps must sometimes release water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to protect public safety when lake levels get too high. Under its revised 2008 regulation schedule, the Corps strives to maintain Lake Okeechobee's water level between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet NGVD, in part to protect the integrity of the aging Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds the lake. The lake's water level can rise up to six times faster than water can be discharged.
Historically, Lake Okeechobee overflowed its natural banks and sent a sheet flow of water south through the expansive Everglades all the way to Florida Bay. In today's managed system, a number of constraints limit how much water can be sent through canals and structures from the lake to the remnant Everglades. more »
Constraints on water managers ability to send water south from the lake to the Everglades include:
Limited conveyance capacity in existing canals and structures
Vegetation conditions and construction activities in Everglades Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs)
STA water levels and operations, as well as legal implications related to phosphorus loading rates and STA performance
Downstream capacity for discharge into the Everglades Water Conservation Areas
Federal requirements in the Endangered Species and Migratory Bird Treaty acts
Strategies for Improving the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary
The District and our local, state and federal partners have numerous efforts under way to improve water quality in the Caloosahatchee and better manage the timing and quantity of water flows from Lake Okeechobee. The District continues to work with the Corps to optimize water management strategies that may provide incremental improvements for both the estuary and the lake. We are also implementing short- and long-term solutions for improving the health of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary while balancing regional flood control, water supply and environmental needs for South Florida's 7.9 million residents.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages Lake Okeechobee water levels with the goal of balancing flood control, public safety, navigation, water supply and ecological health. The Corps bases operational decisions – whether to retain or release water in the 730-square-mile lake – on its regulation schedule and the best available science and data provided by its staff and a variety of partners, including the South Florida Water Management District. Rehabilitation of the 75-year-old Herbert Hoover Dike is a Corps top safety priority. In spring 2013, the Corps' Jacksonville District completed construction of a cutoff wall in the dike's most vulnerable area, a 22-mile section between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade. Work is also under way to replace or remove a series of culverts installed around the lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may need to decrease the probability of the water level rising to an elevation that could threaten the stability of the Herbert Hoover Dike. The lake's water level can rise up to six times faster than water can be discharged. The Corps strives to maintain Lake Okeechobee's water level between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet NGVD. By initially prescribing low-volume releases, the regulation schedule reduces the frequency of larger releases that have greater impact on receiving water bodies. However, if inflows and levels continue to increase, larger releases are required. The Corps continuously monitors the effects of direct rainfall and any releases on the primary waterways and the receiving estuaries. The Corps confers with its partner agencies and stakeholders to modify releases to help minimize impacts to waterway communities and coastal waters.
To assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in furthering lake management goals, the South Florida Water Management District continues to provide unique scientific expertise and data for assessing the ecological health of Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Estuary and their surrounding ecosystems.
The District's Dispersed Water Management program works with a coalition of other agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers to enhance opportunities for storing excess surface water on private, public and tribal lands. Retaining water on these lands is one tool to reduce the amount of water that is delivered into Lake Okeechobee and discharged to coastal estuaries.
More than 130,000 acre-feet of water storage has been made available in South Florida through regional public projects and the Dispersed Water Management Program since it was launched in 2005. Planned projects that have been assessed for implementation may provide additional storage in the future, pending funding. To put this in perspective, 450,000 acre-feet of storage equates to approximately 1 foot of water off of Lake Okeechobee.
Canals are designed to convey water and do not effectively store large volumes of water. Raising canal levels alone would not lessen the need for the Corps to make regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee. Raising water levels in 120 miles of primary canals in the Everglades Agricultural Area by 1 foot equates to approximately .01 foot of water off of Lake Okeechobee. Holding higher water levels in canals during the rainy season would also make the canals more vulnerable to flooding during heavy rains.
At times, yes. The ability to use the Everglades Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) for water storage in the rainy season is influenced by several factors: the capacity of the WCAs, the quality of the water entering the WCAs and the conveyance capacity of the canals. Water levels in the Water Conservation Areas are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in accordance with a regulation schedule that balances flood control, public safety, water supply and ecological health. High water levels within the WCAs can jeopardize the ability to provide flood control and cause environmental damage – including the habitat and viability of endangered and threatened species. Water released from Lake Okeechobee must be treated by Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) to certain water quality standards before it can be moved into the Everglades. The capacity of area canals also limits the amount of water that can be moved into the WCAs.
Yes, under certain conditions. Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) play a vital role in protecting and restoring America's Everglades. These large constructed wetlands do provide some water storage, but they are designed for water quality purposes – to remove excess nutrients from runoff. Storing too much water in STAs limits their ability to effectively remove nutrients, such as phosphorus. When phosphorus enters the Everglades ecosystem in excess, plant growth is stimulated, producing an overabundance of undesirable vegetation.
Caloosahatchee Science Workshop and Community Forums
The Consensus Building Institute (CBI) led the Caloosahatchee stakeholder-based vision study that included extensive interviews with more than forty stakeholders. CBI, a not-for-profit group, has extensive experience with mediation of water-related environmental issues in Florida and elsewhere and offers design process recommendations.
Workshops and Community Forums
The South Florida Water Management District is moving forward with a process that includes components of Consensus Building Institute's (CBI) recommendations, balances stakeholder input and considers the resource capabilities of the District and other participants. This approach includes a multi-day Caloosahatchee Science Workshop and ongoing Caloosahatchee Community Forums, both of which are consistent with recommendations by CBI. (See above for a link to CBI's final report on their interview findings and recommendations).
Hosted by Florida Gulf Coast University's Coastal Watershed Institute, the Caloosahatchee Science Workshop brought together scientists in November 2013 for invited talks/presentations on specific topics, such as historic alterations and their effects on system components and the current state of the system. The workshop also included facilitated group discussions on specific topics, such as ecological indicators, research/data gaps and science priorities. Among other things, the information generated at the workshop will be used to update and confirm the current state of scientific knowledge about the Caloosahatchee Estuary and River, identify information gaps, verify ecological indicators and provide a science framework to guide Community Forums and other relevant discussions.
The Caloosahatchee Community Forums are open workshops with multiple agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, local governments and other interested stakeholders to share and collaborate on science, projects, priorities and policy items on a regular basis (e.g. quarterly). Agenda items will be requested from the larger stakeholder group.
We believe this approach will accomplish the following objectives while balancing resources and staffing demands, and allowing agency resources to remain focused on continued basin management activities.
Foster open and ongoing dialogue between the District, other governmental agencies and stakeholders on Caloosahatchee items;
Provide a continued opportunity to share information, ideas and knowledge;
Verify ecological indicators and Caloosahatchee science, and identify data gaps:
Allow for discussions on complex issues affecting the Caloosahatchee and identify potential strategies to mitigate effects;
Provide for an opportunity to garner support for projects and to identify and seek funding to assist with project implementation; and
Help with implementation of existing restoration plans such as the Caloosahatchee River Watershed Protection Plan under the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program and the Caloosahatchee Basin Management Action Plan.
The District is open to evaluating the effectiveness of these ongoing approaches and, as appropriate, devising new ways to engage stakeholders as we move forward.
Please check back for specific dates for the Caloosahatchee Community Forums.
Lesley Bertolotti (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the District's project manager and Phil Flood (email@example.com) is the local representative. Please contact Lesley or Phil with questions or comments regarding workshops.