As a general concept, Send it South is a battle cry for restoring the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and into Florida Bay.
It’s about re-connecting a historical flow of water essential to the entire South Florida ecosystem, and it benefits the ecology of four major areas: The Everglades, Florida Bay, the northern coastal estuaries, and Lake Okeechobee.
River of Grass: The natural flow of the Everglades
Before man tamed South Florida’s waters during the first half of the 20th century, Lake Okeechobee would swell with summer rains and freshwater inflows from the Kissimmee River until overflowing into the Everglades system to the south.
Water levels on the lake and within the greater Everglades ecosystem would rise and fall seasonally. During the dry winter months, that lake overflow would continue to slowly feed the Everglades sheet flow, keeping the River of Grass properly hydrated until the following summer rains kicked up again.
Season after season, this natural ebb and flow kept the system balanced.
But when Florida was developed about a century ago, that flow was disrupted—levies, dikes, and berms blocked the flow, and then manmade canals redirected it.
Now the Everglades only receives about one third of its historical flows from Lake Okeechobee.
How do restricted flows into the Everglades impact the greater ecosystem?
Limited flows are bad for the Everglades because now the system can undergo dangerously dry conditions, particularly during the dry, winter months when there’s very little direct rainfall to keep it hydrated.
They’re bad for Florida Bay because Florida Bay depends on freshwater flows from the Everglades to keep critical salinity levels balanced and healthy.
They’re bad for our coastal estuaries that are now connected to the lake because much of the water that no longer flows south is forced to be discharged east and west, where it can cause extreme salinity imbalances and flush Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) into populated communities.
And they’re also bad for the lake itself because it leads to higher-than-necessary water levels that impact the lake’s ecology.
Sending water south is the solution
That’s why this concept of sending more water south is so important. Everglades restoration is an effort to do just that.
Through a suite of large-scale infrastructure projects, Everglades restoration will help ensure more natural flows into and through the Everglades, in terms of both quantity and timing.
With key projects like the EAA Reservoir, water managers will have more flexibility to store, clean, and send water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, particularly during the dry season when it’s needed most.
Maximizing flows south during the dry season will also help lower the level of the lake heading into the rainy season, which creates more capacity on the lake to take on summer rains before coastal discharges are required.
4 benefits of sending it south
At the end of the day, sending it south will benefit the entire South Florida ecosystem, including The Everglades, Florida Bay, the coastal estuaries, and Lake Okeechobee. Here’s how.
1. The Everglades
An excessively dry Everglades can damage habitat, release carbon, cause fires, and impact the health of the Biscayne Aquifer.
A properly hydrated Everglades keeps habitat healthy, stores massive amounts of carbon, and recharges the Biscayne Aquifer, a drinking water source for about nine million Floridians.
2. Florida Bay
Florida Bay is home to one of the largest contiguous seagrass meadows in the world, offering foundational habitat and another major carbon sink. Without proper freshwater flows from the Everglades, Florida Bay can become hypersaline, which can lead to algae blooms, seagrass die offs, and fish kills.
Adequate freshwater inflow from the Everglades—especially during the dry season—is important to maintaining a delicate-yet-critical salinity balance in Florida Bay, which safeguards the health of these vital seagrasses.
3. Coastal Estuaries
When engineers “re-plumbed” the Everglades decades ago, they ran the flush lines to the east and west coasts, attaching Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers through canals.
Now, when the lake gets too high, water managers discharge massive amounts of polluted lake water to the east and west coasts—threatening human health, supercharging red tide, killing marine life, and crippling our economy for months.
Sending more water south during the dry season creates more room on the lake to fill from summer rains before water managers are forced to open those flood gates to the coasts. By adding new infrastructure to send more water south, Everglades restoration is estimated to cut out damaging coastal discharges by more than 50%.
4. Lake Okeechobee
Unfortunately, there’s no denying that Lake Okeechobee is an impaired waterbody. The restructuring of the lake coupled with decades of legacy nutrient pollution has led to poor water quality, altered habitat, and a susceptibility to frequent, intense harmful algal blooms.
Lake levels going too low or too high for too long can cause further damage to habitat, like submerged aquatic vegetation, which further threatens the health of the lake and makes it less resilient to future stressors.
However, with more capability to send water south, water managers will be able to better replicate the natural rise-and-fall schedule of the lake throughout the year. This will benefit the lake’s aquatic vegetation, which can help filter out pollutants, improve water clarity, and bolster the overall ecology of the lake.
One last time: “Send it south!”
When you boil it down, sending it south is a simple concept, one that seeks mainly to return an ecosystem’s inner workings closer to the way things functioned naturally.
However, executing that concept is far from simple—it involves the largest ecosystem restoration project of its kind in the world, incredibly complex water management, and a slew of other nuanced undertakings.
And most critically, the effort in general requires an enormous amount of continued support from people like you to keep progress rolling.
Help us continue to make progress on sending more water south by staying involved with our efforts—and by getting others involved too!
Join our email newsletter, become a member, follow us on social media, purchase a skiff raffle ticket, or get five friends to do the same. The more people we have involved in this effort, the more pressure we can keep on making progress happen, and the sooner we’ll get to the finish line.