Kissimmee - The First River Restoration
The Kissimmee River Restoration is the first River Restoration in the history of mankind and
the obvious blue print for Everglades Restoration. It is still a very successful experiment in a
very complicated ecosystem restoration.
The Kissimmee River Watershed is located in central Florida and includes most of Osceola
and Okeechobee and parts of Orange, Polk, and Highlands counties. It is bounded on the
north by the lakes of the Orlando area, on the west by the Peace River watershed, and on the
south by Lk. Okeechobee, and on the east by the upper St. Johns River Basin. The Upper and
Lower Kissimmee River Basins, 3013 square miles, include the active restoration of 40sq.
mi. of river/flood plain ecosystem and 43 miles of meandering river channel and 27,000 acres
of wetlands. This system supports over 340 fish and wildlife species, including the
endangered Florida Panther, Whooping Crane, Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, Snail Kite, Florida
Grasshopper Sparrow, and a long list of Threatened, Rare, and Species of Special Concern.
We have not listed the majority of Florida’s Endangered Species which live in the Lk. Wales
Scrub though they are within the Kissimmee Watershed. Obviously, the Kissimmee River is a
major wildlife corridor between the SE and SW Florida Coastal Estuaries, the Everglades and
the Green Swamp, and north Florida. The species listed here are both observed and listed in
"Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida," a standard reference.
This is an ongoing restoration project that the Chapter has supported since the mid 1970s. The
major problems are to keep the Corps of Engineers on track and schedule with the letting of
contracts and funding matches with the South Florida Water Management District.
Coordination of various well intentioned agencies is a constant battle having to do with
dozens of individual projects, including land acquisition, both in the Upper Basin and Lower
Basin. Water supply issues are increasing in both basins forcing competition between clean-
ups of mono cultures and invasive species in the Upper Basin and restoration of wetlands and
the restored river system in the Lower Basin. Nutrient loads (Ps & Ns) are an increasing
concern as they impact water quality and habitat. Because both the flood water and nutrients from the
Kissimmee Basin directly impact Lk. Okeechobee and both the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries are directly
affected, the constituents of all three issues are natural allies in efforts to improve water quality and reestablish
more natural hydroperiods thru a recently formed "County Coalition for Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee
and St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries." The bridge between their organization and ours has already begun.
Sierra's Kissimmee Issue Chair meets with a reactivated Agency Working
Committee and helps keep the restoration momentum going. He and his
committee work with the public, Senator Graham, Congress, the Corps of
Engineers, and the combined Federal and State Agencies, including the South
Florida Water Management District, who already support this ongoing work.
They must respond to the usual opponents to environmental restoration or
protection - vested interests in development, including some
agriculturists, who will want more money for contested land or to develop
in floodplains and wetlands.
South view of Lake Kissimmee, picture by Richard Coleman, Copyright ©2003, All Rights Reserved
Sierra's Kissimmee Restoration Chair is pleased to report on the following
- The old "Death of a River, the Kissimmee" slide show is available online on this Website.
- Acquisition of the Kissimmee Shores Marina and Resort; $10M was voted
by the Governor and Cabinet December 11, 2002 for 5,000 acres including
three miles of shoreline. We fought the zoning change for this
inappropriate development in seepage and flood plain lands far from the
planned growth areas in Polk County. We won an appeal to the County
Commissioners who denied a zoning change which would have allowed the
development to proceed. Two of of us were named in a conspiracy suit
brought by the investment group; the suit was later dropped.
- Kept the Kissimmee Valley Regional Restoration Coordination Team
(KVRRC) together through several tough meetings in 2002..
The KVRRC is now beginning to work on a critical EIS proposed by the Corps of Engineers
involving the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (1633sq.mi.). The Alligator Chain of lakes, just
South of Orlando, feeds into Lk. Tohopekaliga then Lk. Cypress, Lk. Hatchineha, Lk.
Kissimmee, and the Kissimmee River, the major tributary (3013sq.mi.) to Lk. Okeechobee.
They have all been "stabilized" in the channelization and damming of this entire system by the
Corps’ Central and South Florida Flood Control Project. The restoration of the Kissimmee
River at the lower end of this Kissimmee system is taking place as some of the dams and locks
are being removed, channels are being filled and wetlands are being restored. While this
restoration is precedent setting and the blueprint for future large scale restorations, including
the Everglades, it has not addressed the plight of the lakes that supply water to the river system
other than to acquire land or flowage easements necessary to hold enough water to supply the
River with minimal flow, avoiding fish kills, during summer months. The reduction of lake
level fluctuation, from 10ft. to 3ft (as an example) in the case of Lk. Tohopekaliga had
predictable habitat and wildlife impacts (see Herke, 1957). Of course the water stored by the
natural lakes was far greater than can be stored now resulting in extremes of both flooding and
drought damaging the floodplans, wetlands, rivers, lakes and estuaries receiving these
extremes all the way to and including the Caloosahatchee, the St. Lucie, and the Everglades.
The EIS can address the need for greater storage in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and in the
floodplans, wetlands and creeks which feed them. Ultimately, this additional storage benefits
both the ecosystems within the Kissimmee Chain and all downstream systems while
contributing to the water reservoir needs described in the $8B Everglades Restoration plan.
Continued acquisition of lands and the conversion of the C-38 canal into thriving wetlands.
Progress is often reported in the newspapers, and on TV and Radio programs. Use the internet
search engine Google.com and ask Google to search for "Florida & Kissimmee & River &
Conferences" you’ll find more pages of material than you ever wanted.
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