In southern Florida, the Greater Everglades ecosystem stretches for over 360km, from Lake Kissimmee in the north to Florida Bay in the south. At its widest point it covers more than 100km from west to east. This natural wetland has been called a sea of grass. But over the years, the vast flow way has been dissected by a network of canals and levees to control flooding, provide water storage for human consumption, and protect croplands.
But the drainage from Lake Okeechobee has undergone some major alterations. In 1928 a major hurricane roared through the region, causing widespread flooding. In response, the US Army Corps of Engineers constructed a restraining wall and levee system 30-40 feet above the normal level, able to handle the heavy tropical rains of a hurricane. This provided protection from flooding, but also cut off flow to the wetlands areas. At the same time, use of the water from the lake for irrigation and for residential use has increased greatly. Currently there are over 1400 miles of canals and levees within the Everglades used for water control and diversion.
Water Supply for the Sea of Grass
Water flows into Lake Okeechobee from the Kissimmee River in the north. From this lake, water flows south into the Everglades, sometimes in small stream, sometimes in “sheetflow” across the shallow wetlands to the south. The water ranges from a few inches to six feet in depth and is often obscured by vegetation. It flows slowly south, at a rate of about 100ft a day.
Water Supply for a Booming Metro Area-but for how long?
Now, about 1.7 billion gallons a day are released from Lake Okeechobee to provide drinking water for the growing population along Florida’s Atlantic coast, and also for agricultural use. The Lake is shrinking, and the Everglades are also on the decline. Today less than half the volume of water flows through the region’s main freshwater channel than a century ago. Once covering the southern Florida peninsula, the Everglades have become a jumbled series of disconnected pools. Pollution of the water supply is another growing problem. The region often experiences droughts, but demand for drinking water continues to expand.
Efforts to Reverse the Damage
The loss of habitat of the Everglades began during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when the original 11,000 square miles of wetlands were viewed as useless swampland in need of reclamation. Agriculture and urban expansion in southern Florida led to the loss of approximately 50% (a loss of about 2.9 million acres) of the original wetlands and 90% of wading bird species. Today, an extensive restoration effort is underway to return portions of the Everglades to a more natural state and prevent further ecosystem degradation. However, take notice that the Everglades National Park only protects a small area of the former expanse of the Everglades. More water would need to be released from Lake Okeechobee to help restore the ecosystem of the Everglades National Park to its former state.
Please place a check mark on the numbered line next to the statements that are correct. In the space below the statement, please explain where in the reading you found support for the statement.
_____ The levee system has provided protection from flooding.
_____ Canals and levees are effective water control devices.
_____ Lake Okeechobee provides drinking water for Florida’s growing population.
_____ Water control has allowed people to live comfortably in the Everglades.
_____ Swamp land is useless.
Please place a check mark on the numbered line next to the statements that are well supported in the reading. In the space below the statement, please explain where in the reading you found support for the statement.
_____ The canal and levees have damaged the Everglades.
_____ The people of Florida believed that wading birds were a nuisance.
_____ The people of Florida think that human life is more important than the ecosystem.
_____ The canals and levels have increased the speed of the water flowing to the Everglades.
_____ The Everglades are a national treasure.
Please place a check mark on the numbered line next to the statements that are reasonably supported in the reading. In the space below the statement, please explain where in the reading you found support for the statement.
_____ Human interaction with the environment is almost always destructive.
_____ People have an obligation to take care of the earth.
_____ Americans simply take what they want and do not care about the consequences.
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