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publications > paper > the role of flow in the everglades ridge and slough landscape > background


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The Everglades, referred to as the “River of Grass” by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her famous book of the same title (Douglas 1947), has at the core of its identity the slow movement of water across the vast, low gradient, wetland landscape. Drainage and compartmentalization activities for flood control and water supply purposes during the 20th century caused unintended environmental impacts. As restoration of the Everglades has proceeded to reverse these impacts, most of the attention to restoring more natural hydropatterns has focused on water levels, and the timing, duration, and distribution of water levels. Much less attention has been paid to the importance of the actual movement of water through the Everglades, and how management activities have altered that flow. The Science Coordination Team (SCT) has provided this paper as a stimulus for increasing the level of understanding and awareness of the role of flow in restoration activities, and to highlight the urgent need for research in this area.

The SCT, formed in 1997 as a successor to the Science Sub-Group by the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, consists of scientists and managers from federal, state, and local government, and two Indian tribes. The SCT’s Charter (SCT Charter 1997) charges the team with ensuring the highest level of communication, coordination, and cooperation in the application of scientific disciplines to the south Florida restoration effort. In 1999, the SCT revised its work plan to more narrowly focus on scientific topics most relevant to present ecosystem restoration efforts. The SCT membership chose five priorities, one of which was to examine the role of flow in the Everglades ecosystem. This priority addresses a specific SCT responsibility stated in the SCT Charter – to identify key gaps in management information and propose research and data collection to address these needs.

As the first step toward examining the role of flow, the SCT sponsored a flow workshop at the Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Science Conference, held in December, 2000, in Naples, Florida (http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/everglades). This workshop included panel presentations, discussions, audience questions, and solicitation of one and five-year research priorities from the 100+ persons in the audience. A summary of that workshop was produced (http://sofia.usgs.gov/geer) and contains an overview of the panel presentations and the research priorities that were developed.

As a second step, the SCT prepared this paper, which builds on the flow workshop by examining the role of flow in the ridge and slough landscape. While the focus of this paper is on the ridge and slough physiographic region, the SCT recognizes that flow also occurs widely throughout the freshwater and downstream estuarine regions of the greater Everglades. In general, ideas about the role of flow in these other regions are much less well developed, and are not addressed comprehensively in this paper.

There are two main purposes of this paper: 1) to increase awareness among scientists and resource managers of the importance of flow to Everglades restoration, and 2) to provide scientists with background information and data to stimulate further discussion and research, and to recommend specific areas for future research. This paper does not attempt to prove or disprove the various mechanisms proposed for creation and maintenance of the ridge and slough landscape. In fact, the paper highlights the current lack of scientific data needed for proof. Rather, it attempts to lay the groundwork for the type of data and research needed, to provide a thoughtful and scientifically sound foundation upon which to better understand the ridge and slough landscape type, and to ensure that it is protected and restored. The SCT envisions that this information will be useful at all levels of restoration effort, including the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the Modified Water Deliveries Project, and other restoration programs at the regional and local levels.

It should be noted that under ideal circumstances, water flow, water levels, and all aspects of the Everglade’s natural hydropattern should be restored via implementation of CERP. Because anthropogenic alterations of the historic system are so extensive, it may be difficult to achieve all aspects of hydropattern restoration simultaneously. This difficulty may force tradeoffs when restoration decisions are made. Understanding more about the significance of flows to Everglades restoration will make these resulting tradeoffs easier to evaluate.

Flow is defined as the continuous motion of a fluid (Morris 1992). For the purposes of this paper, flow is the actual movement of water across the Everglades wetland landscape. The time rate of flow is velocity, which is a vector quantity whose magnitude is expressed in units of distance over time, such as inches per second (Morris 1992). In addition, the concept of flow in the Everglades includes consideration of the spatial distribution of that flow across the wetland landscape. It is important to distinguish this definition of flow from discharge (volume of water per unit time), and from the more general concepts of hydropattern, which include water levels, duration of water levels, timing of water levels, and distribution of water levels.

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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM(TJE)