The managed flows of water into, and within, the Everglades are being evaluated by scientists and engineers in attempts to optimize the managment network for the needs of this dynamic landscape.
The south Florida region, and much of the greater Everglades region, is driven by a complex engineering infrastructure that is operated to distribute water for environmental, water supply, and flood control needs. This network of canals, levees, and water control structures was designed many decades ago with the primary goal of improving water supply and flood control for the urban and agricultural sectors of the regional economy.
While successful in those respects, this hydrologic management - in conjunction with deteriorating water quality - had significant negative impacts on the Everglades ecology. The Everglades had been fragmented into separate, impounded basins (Water Conservation Areas) with dramatically altered flows and hydropatterns. Water historically flowed from the northern parts of the region into and through the Everglades largely as overland sheet flow. This flow regime changed to point releases at the pumps and weirs of water control structures. Operational criteria for these managed flows dictated the timing and magnitude of water distribution into and within the Everglades, further modifying its hydrology. With agricultural and urban runoff, many of these inflows also carried higher loads of nutrients into the historically oligotrophic (low-nutrient) Everglades. The altered distribution and timing of flows in a fragmented watershed, combined with increased nutrient loads, changed the mosaic of Everglades habitats - for the worse.
Details on the location, magnitude, and timing of these managed flows are vital components of understanding the Everglades dynamic response, from the scale of an individual tree island to that of the broader landscape of a Water Conservation Area or Everglades National Park. A variety of projects are underway to restore the Everglades by optimizing management of hydrology and water quality, two fundamental "drivers" of Everglades ecology. Multiple research groups are providing critical scientific insights into the benefits and risks associated with these endeavors, integrating quantitative ecological science into decisions on modfying Everglades water managment.