The Caloosahatchee today is a 75 mile long river and estuary which runs from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico across the western two-thirds of peninsular Florida. Three lock and dam structures manage water on 43 miles of the river creating two freshwater pools that feed the 32 miles of tidally influenced estuary west of the WP Franklin Lock and Dam, known as S79 (structure 79).
Historically the Caloosahatchee was not connected to Lake Okeechobee a twisting curving river that existed downstream of the Ft Thompson waterfall/rapids located two miles east of the town of LaBelle. The river was fed by a series of lakes surrounded by marshes that were part of the western Everglades. The natural fall of the land from Lake Okeechobee to the west directed some water from high lake stages west into the 7,776 acre Lake Hicpochee and its marsh lands then to the 522 acre Bonnett Lake, to the 100+ acre Lettuce Lake and finally into the 3,318 acre Lake Flirt where high water stages fed the Caloosahatchee over the waterfall and quarter mile of rapids. The river was fed year round by freshwater springs and groundwater flow.
The Caloosahatchee Condundrum - A Goldilocks Condition
Today the man altered, channelized river and estuary are challenged by extremes of too much or too little water, yo- yoing between massive dumps of unwanted water in the wet season and being provided too little to no water flow in the dry season and droughts. Damaging high flows wash the estuary mixing zone out of the river and into the Gulf of Mexico and deliver undesirable loads of excess nutrients and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) that harms seagrasses and water quality. Lack of flow in the dry season and droughts cause the loss of the low salinity zone in the upper estuary and all the fishery and wildlife habitat it provides for recreational and food fisheries and causes stagnation and harmful algal blooms in the upriver pools.
Addressing excess water needs requires re-creating storage to capture and treat surface water throughout the greater Everglades ecosystem. Storage provides water quality treatment, recharges ground water, extends the hydro period for wetlands and habitat wildlife productivity and can improve the timing of water deliveries.
In 2011 SCCF policy staff developed a weekly report of Caloosahatchee, estuary and coastal conditions to provide real time conditions to water managers at the Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District to inform water delivery operations and policy decisions. The SCCF Policy department works with Marine Lab staff to provide current local monitored water conditions and coordinates with local stakeholders including the Refuge, local cities and Lee County. This data and analysis is also shared on the Corps periodic scientists phone call.
2017 Weekly Reports: