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Restore: Water for the Everglades

Audubon Florida focuses on water quality and quantity in the famed River of Grass.

Mangrove Islands by Mac Stone

The Everglades by Mac Stone.

The Greater Everglades Ecosystem relies on clean freshwater to sustain life and create a truly unique ecosystem. In this issue of Restore, learn how Audubon Florida is working to ensure that our wetlands get their fair share of this precious natural resource. Our focus this month is on an algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, Everglades Day is declared by the Florida Legislature, April is now Water Conservation Month, and we close with a special Audubon memorial to our friend John Ogden. You can help the Everglades right now by helping others get the latest information. Please share this eNewsletter with your friends and family or on social media. See links at the bottom. Have a wonderful Earth Day and thank you for all that you do for the River of Grass! - The Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Team

In This Issue

Hope for the Caloosahatchee

Caloosahatchee Algae Bloom 2008
Caloosahatchee Algae Bloom in 2008

The Caloosahatchee River and Estuary need help as we near the end of the dry season. In the river, stagnant, nutrient-enriched water may soon foster blooms of harmful algae. In the estuary, the salinity (or salt water concentrations) is increasing to high levels that threaten death for plants and animals that cannot leave, and forcing migration on those who can.

The glimmer of hope is that at the April South Florida Water Management District Governing Board meeting, Audubon and Caloosahatchee advocates convinced the Board to authorize water releases from Lake Okeechobee that can help with both algae and salinity issues. These releases will be small quantities of water that should not impact habitat in Lake Okeechobee or other users throughout Florida. The 39 Everglade Snail Kite nests on the Lake are currently in healthy depths of water, and we do not foresee a repeat of last year's nesting tragedy.

Audubon encourages the agencies to conduct a pulse as soon as possible to avoid a worsening of algal problems and reverse salinity problems in time to save brackish organisms. 


Everglades Day Established by Florida Legislature

River of Grass
Click to enlarge.

This session, the Florida Legislature officially designated April 7 as “Everglades Day,” enabling an annual recognition of issues facing the Everglades and a celebration of its uniqueness and beauty

This date marks the birthday of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the pioneering advocate who helped bring about efforts to protect and restore the Everglades by sharing the magic of this unique ecosystem in her book, The Everglades: River of GrassClick here to see our appeal from earlier this month, marking this important occasion for all Everglades advocates.

Audubon thanks the Everglades Coalition and all supporters who worked to make establishing an annual Everglades Day a reality.


Celebrate Water Conservation Month this April

Frog by Mac Stone
Green Tree Frog by Mac Stone

Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Environment Protection, and the South Florida Water Management District have declared April Water Conservation Month in Florida. One in three Floridians depend on the Everglades for fresh water so conserving water means protecting the Everglades. As rainwater fills the Water Conservation Areas in the Central Everglades and provides nourishing habitat for a variety of endangered species and wading birds, it seeps into the ground and replenishes the Biscayne Aquifer- the source of drinking water for much of South Florida.

From Florida friendly landscaping to fixing leaky pipes, there are a variety of ways people, cities, and businesses can conserve water for the Everglades. Download Audubon's handy tip sheet for more information on how you can conserve water and help the Everglades.

Join Audubon Florida in congratulating Cooper City’s outstanding effort in water conservation on April 24 for our first ever Excellence in Water Conservation Award, to be presented at the Cooper City Commission meeting at 6 pm at Cooper City Hall, 9090 Southwest 50th Place, Cooper City, FL 33328. Rather than spending $12 million to fund a new water treatment plant or asking for more water from the water management district, Cooper City implemented an aggressive water conservation campaign working with homeowners associations, residential water customers, highest water users, schools and the media.

Two years later, the water savings from the program are twice as much as was expected and water conservation has transformed from a chore into a lifestyle in the town. 

Please click here for a Sun-Sentinel article discussing water conservation in South Florida.

Study Reveals Causes and Costs of Water Quality Cleanup

Lake Okeechobee by Mac Stone
Lake Okeechobee by Mac Stone

Recommendations long made by Audubon Florida to resolve Everglades water quality problems were strongly validated by a recent study commissioned by the Everglades Foundation through RTI International, an independent, nonprofit institute. The study revealed that Best Management Practices (BMPs) implemented by farmers on their own land are by far the most cost-effective means of achieving phosphorus cleanup for the Everglades.

The study determined it costs only $47 per pound to remove phosphorus from water through BMPs, whereas it costs $350 per pound to remove phosphorus through government-funded Stormwater Treatment Areas. These findings confirm Audubon’s position that efforts to improve water quality in Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) discharges must intensify BMPs required of farmers to undertake on their own land and at their own expense.

Everglades Agricultural Area
The Everglades Agricultural Area

Another major finding of the study is that a claim often made by the sugar industry—that the phosphorus leaving the EAA is actually coming from Lake Okeechobee rather than farms—is factually incorrect.

The study concluded that of the 216 tons of phosphorus reaching EAA Stormwater Treatment Areas, only 28 tons actually originate from Lake Okeechobee. The study also concluded that homeowners and businesses pay a far greater percentage of the cost to clean up water pollution than agricultural polluters.

Audubon Florida continues to work closely with Everglades Foundation scientists and attorneys to solve the water quality problems that are severely damaging the Everglades.

Remembering John Ogden

By Megan Tinsley, Audubon Florida Everglades Policy Associate

Megan Tinsley and John Ogden at the Everglades Gala

Megan Tinsley and John Ogden
Everglades Foundation Gala 2009

Every so often, you encounter someone who inspires you and provides a perspective that you find invaluable to your conservation work. John Ogden was one such person. His time at Audubon Florida as Director of Bird Conservation overlapped with my time working on Everglades policy in Audubon’s Miami office. Perched high above the din and clatter of construction on Brickell Avenue as we discussed restoration goals, he told me stories of what bird life used to be in the Everglades. 

John’s description of the former supercolonies of wading birds created an unforgettable vision. One of the most heartbreaking Everglades stories is not the vast amount of wetland and other habitats lost to development and drainage, but that within the remaining Everglades, wading birds populations are only a tiny fraction of what they once were. Today, despite protection from hunters and National Park boundaries, former supercolonies made up of egrets, herons, ibises and storks that used to nest on the southern mangrove fringe of Florida Bay in Everglades National Park are all but absent. No clucking sounds of impatient chicks on the nest, no parents hurriedly flying to and from to feed their growing young. No life.

Great Egret and Chicks by Charles Lee

More than anyone else, John taught me that restoring this treasured ecosystem was not about the number of projects we built or acres that we “saved”. Success was recreating the productive conditions to enable wading birds to return in greater abundances. I longed for more stories of what the Everglades used to be, which in turn inspired me to try my hardest to see that this ecosystem restoration effort wasn’t just an effort. That it truly delivered the benefits it was capable of, political and financial hurdles aside. 

Eager to prove myself in the company of such a bird expert and “Silverback”—a coin termed by John to refer to an elite group of Everglades restoration scientists—I tried to established myself at least as a proficient birder. I visibly scoffed when John suggested I may have mistaken a sparrow for a warbler, and he never made that mistake again. Without John, we will continue to remedy the multitude of mistakes made in the Everglades ecosystem with the goal of recovering wading birds until they once again fill our skies. But his vision of a restored Everglades will guide Audubon’s Everglades Team, every step of the way.  


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