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controlling the waters

| EAA | STAs | WCAs | Control Structures |

Water Conservation Areas (WCAs)

map showing EAA, STA and WCA locations
Map showing location of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), and Water Conservation Areas (WCA).
As part of the (1948) Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project, three water conservation areas (WCAs) were developed. The WCAs were designed for use as storage to prevent flooding, to irrigate agriculture and recharge well fields and as input for agricultural and urban runoff. The areas are recognized as WCA-1, WCA-2 and WCA-3, and are located south of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and north of Everglades National Park. The WCAs cover about 900,000 acres of marshlands and comprise a large part of the original Everglades. Rainfall is the primary source of recharge for the WCAs.

Much of the land within WCA-1 consists of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge covers about 146,000 acres and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is located within the northernmost part of the Everglades and consists of sawgrass marsh and some cypress forest. A 57-mile canal and levee surround WCA-1. Major input is from rainfall and Pump Stations S-5A and S-6 and major discharge is via Control Structures S-10A, C, D and E.

Like WCA-1, WCA-2 is surrounded by levees. WCA-2 consists of WCA-2A and WCA-2B. Along with gravity and pumps, Control Structure S-11 and culverts S-144, S-145 and S-146 direct waters to adjacent WCAs and Broward County lands.

WCA-3, which consists of WCA-3A and WCA-3B, is the largest of the water conservation areas. It is leveed on 3 sides, but its western border contains a gap about 7 miles long, which permits water exchange with the Big Cypress Swamp. Major discharge is via Control Structure S-11, and Pump Stations S-8, S-9 and S-140.

Historic flow of water and the quality of water through the WCAs have been greatly reduced. These conditions have resulted in decreased wading bird populations due to shortened hydroperiods, invasion of the native environments by exotic plants and fish, and conversions of sawgrass communities to cattail/sawgrass mixes.

Walk with us through the swamp and man-made marshes at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge found within WCA-1, or tour the lands and some water control structures found within WCA-3.

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

A photo gallery is available for this page. [Photos taken December, 1999 and April, 2000]

Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3)
photo of high waters within Water Conservation Area 3
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Looking west from US 27, a few miles north of I-75 (Alligator Alley), at high waters within Water Conservation Area 3. photo of high waters within Water Conservation Area 3
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Along Alligator Alley
photo of marsh area along I-75
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A recreation area along I-75 (Alligator Alley), located about 2 miles from the eastern end of I-75, provided this northerly view of the marshland that makes up Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3). Marshes generally contain grasses and sedges and contain few if any trees and shrubs.

Here many plants prospers in the marsh. WCA-3 receives agricultural runoff so much of the native sawgrass marsh has been replaced by cattails that prosper in nutrient-enriched waters.

Look closely to see the duck-like coot swimming among the spatterdocks (yellow cow lilies). American coots are mainly gray and have a short, thick beak. They are commonly seen in open ponds and marshes and in saltwater bays and inlets. Foods coots may eat include aquatic plants, fish, mollusks and insects.

photo of the flooded marshes along WCA3
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(Right) The marsh of Water Conservation Area 3 as seen looking north of I-75 (Alligator Alley), from a recreation area located about 2 miles west of the eastern end of I-75. Spatterdock are seen in the foreground.

(Left) Looking westward at the flooded marshes of Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3). Coots are swimming along the dense vegetation of WCA-3.

photo of a marshy area in WCA3
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A Sea of Sawgrass
Photo of sawgrass
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(Left) A close-up of sawgrass. Sawgrass is a member of the sedge family and is not really a grass. It is named for the rows of sharp teeth that run along each edge and down the central spine. If touched in the wrong direction, sawgrass can cut.
Looking west from US 27, just south of the US 27/I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection, at a vast sawgrass expanse of Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3). Sawgrass is the most abundant plant in the Everglades' "River of Grass". It grows 100 miles north and south from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico and 50 - 70 miles east to west.

Panoramic of Alligator Alley
panoramic photo of Alligator Alley
This large panoramic shows you a sea of sawgrass. [larger image]

photo of a dragon fly A large dragonfly rests atop the short vegetation of the roadside, just south of the US 27/I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection. Did you notice this dragonfly's gossamer wings?

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Urbanization in South Florida
Looking east from US 27, just south of the US 27/I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection, at urbanization encroaching on the sawgrass. The more than 4 million people that live near or along South Florida's coast today have great effects on the area's water resources. These urbanization effects include non-point source pollution (pollutants from no readily identifiable source) of stormwater runoff, reduction of infiltration, increase of flood potential and degradation of water bodies receiving water.
photo of sawgrass with houses in the distance
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photo of sawgrass with houses in the distance
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photo of sawgrass with houses and crane in the distance
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East of US 27, just south of the US 27/I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection, yellowtop blooms along the roadside.

Yellowtop generally blooms year-round in Florida. It is commonly found in coastal hammocks, dunes, pinelands and disturbed areas of central and southern Florida.

photo of yellowtop blooms
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Everglades Holiday Park
outdoor photo of pump station S-9
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Beyond the waters of Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3), a view of Pump Station S-9, as seen from Everglades Holiday Park, located just south of the US 27/ I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection. Pumps are used to pump water from one location to another. Here, pumps discharge water from WCA-3 via Pump Station S-9 and Canal C-11 located on the other side of the structure.
The waters and vegetation of Water Conservation Area 3, viewed from Everglades Holiday Park, located just south of the US 27/ I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection.
photo of waters and vegetation of Water Conservation Area 3
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photo of sunset over water and vegetation
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Sunset over Water Conservation Area 3, as seen from Everglades Holiday Park, located just south of the US 27/ I-75 (Alligator Alley) intersection. Boating docks, boating ramps and a campground are a few of the amenities offered at Everglades Holiday Park.

photo of black vultures in treetop
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Two black vultures rest on a branch in Water Conservation Area 3, north of US 41 (Tamiami Trail), and a few miles west of State Road 997. Black vultures are commonly seen in open areas throughout Florida.

Vultures are scavengers that mainly feed on carrion - the flesh of dead animals. Carrion can make for messy meals, therefore, a vulture's bald head is suitable for keeping them from getting too messy when they stick their heads into their food.

photo of Tamiami Canal
Looking eastward at the Tamiami Canal. Water Conservation Area 3 is to the left and US 41 (Tamiami Trail) is to the right.
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Tamiami Canal
Historic natural sheetflow through the Everglades was greatly affected by the construction of canals and levees. As part of the (1999) 20-year Central and Southern Florida Project Comprehensive Plan to restore the South Florida ecosystem, 20 miles of US 41 (Tamiami Trail) will be rebuilt with bridges and culverts to allow water to flow more naturally into Everglades National Park.

Related SOFIA Information

Below we have listed science projects and publications for studies that are being conducted, or have been conducted, in the vicinity of the Water Conservation Areas. Follow these links to read about each project and to see project-related publications and data.

Science Projects:

Related Publications:



U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal Geology
This page is: http://sofia.usgs.gov /virtual_tour/controlling/wca.html
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Heather Henkel - Webmaster (hhenkel@usgs.gov)
Last updated: January 15, 2013 @ 12:44 PM (HSH)