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SCCF ConServation noteS

A History of the Caloosahatchee

Beginning this week, SCCF will be writing a new column in the Island Reporter about environmental issues affecting the islands.

SCCF’s RECON sensors are fully deployed and reporting real-time data hourly, which is available to the public on our website: www.recon.sccf.org. In future columns, we will review details of the sensors and the parameters that they measure. To understand why we invested in this array and to provide context for the implications of the water quality measurements, we begin this column with an overview of the history of the Caloosahatchee and the influence of Lake Okeechobee. Next week we will provide an overview of the estuary.

The

Caloosahatchee

connected

to Lake

today but

historically,

River

is

Okeechobee the river did

not extend to the lake. 1880s, the Caloosahatchee originated at a waterfall on

Before the headwaters the western

General Zachary Taylor (later President) surveyed the Lake Okeechobee and Caloosahatchee area in 1839, preparatory to the Seminole Wars. The marsh to the west of the lake can be clearly seen. The oxbows of the Caloo- sahatchee can be also seen in the zig-zagging line of the river. Compare to the image of the modern Caloosahatchee, with its straight lines.

end

of

Lake

Flirt,

a

five-and-a-half-

mile long feet above

lake perched four –to-10 the Caloosahatchee valley

at

Fort

Thompson,

two

miles

east

of

LaBelle.

Lake

Okeechobee

without

a

dike

fluctuated

between

20

and

24

feet above mean sea level, expanding across the landscape in the wet season and contracting during the dry months.

Lake Okeechobee was filled by water flowing from the north out of the 103-mile-long Kissimmee River

and water flowed south out of the lake into the Everglades river of grass. At extreme high water levels, some water would flow west through the sawgrass west of the lake into a series of marsh- skirted lakes heading toward the

Caloosahatchee.

Based on a Google Earth image, the modern Caloosahatchee can be seen. The red outlines show the outlines of the historical Lake Hicpochee, Lakes Bonnet and Flirt, plus the Nitrogen Treatment Area and the Caloosahatchee West Basin Storage Reservoir (both will be covered in future columns).

Water would settle first in Lake Hicpochee, then Lettuce Lake and Bonnet Lake, until it reached, Lake Flirt above the Caloosahatchee valley. At the western end of Lake Flirt a rock formation created a quarter mile of rapids which fed the Caloosahatchee. Below the falls, the Caloosahatchee was a crooked, winding river that slowed the flow and provided natural filtration as the water moved slowly downriver. In the estuary, the water flowed over filter-feeding oyster beds, which provided additional filtration.

This was changed forever in 1881 when Hamilton Diston dynamited the Lake Flirt ridge and began dredging a canal to connect the Caloosahatchee to Lake O.

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