Kissimmee River Ditch and Oxbow  
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DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk and Sumter counties of Florida

   

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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

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 recent achievements:

  1. The old "Death of a River, the Kissimmee" slide show is available online on this Website.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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Kissimmee River Ditch and Oxbow

 

masthead picture: Kissimmee River Ditch and Oxbow , published with permission
Copyright © 2003, Richard Coleman, All Rights Reserved

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