Manatee Spring in Florida
Manatee Spring Florida fresh water © Lesley Bertolotti

Stories in Florida

Protecting Fresh Water

We're working to ensure clean water for Florida’s people and nature.

Our long-term vision for freshwater conservation in Florida is simple, but ambitious: Florida must have enough clean water for both people and nature. 

The 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act

Signed on October 23, 2018, this new law affords investment in water infrastructure improvements across the country.  Importantly for Florida and America’s Everglades, the law authorizes the United States Army Corps of Engineers to construct the new Everglades Agricultural Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.  The bill also contains a measure that promotes realignment of levees and other flood structures after a disaster, plus it updates the way that federal agencies pay for drinking water and wastewater projects using revolving loan funds. These provisions will help Florida plan for the long term to ensure clean and sufficient water for nature and people.

Nature—such as reefs that break waves and wetlands that absorb floodwaters—is oftentimes our most effective line of defense against storms. And nature-based solutions often cost less and outperform traditional, manmade infrastructure. In these ways, nature can provide win-win solutions that benefit communities and the environment.

Restoring the Source: The Everglades

The Florida Everglades, one of the only great grasslands in the world, is marked by a silent, slow sheet of fresh water moving above and below ground. This vast wetland provides water to nearly 8 million people living in the southern stretches of the state. The Everglades recharges the aquifer as it slowly soaks up and releases waters southward. As a result of past wetland drainage, Florida has lost large supplies of fresh water for both people and wildlife. But that loss does not have to be permanent.

We're working to protect, restore and connect lands and wetlands critical to the replenishment of the state’s aquifers. These lands provide critical habitat for wide-ranging species, like the Florida panther and black bear, as well as other species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker and sandhill crane. We completed restoration of the wetlands on our Disney Wilderness Preserve, perfecting the process of wetlands restoration over the last 20 years and applying lessons learned to help restore other conservation land. We work with ranchers in the northern Everglades to reduce agricultural water use and nutrient run-off, and protect lands for water recharge. This has provided a foundation for meaningful change in the Everglades.

Heron nest in the Florida Everglades
Great Blue Heron Nesting in Florida's Everglades National Park © Kent Mason

We’ve preserved 350,000 acres and facilitated expenditure of $280 million dollars through federal programs to protect and restore wetlands that help replenish the aquifer. Today, these wetlands are returning at least 500 million gallons of water from seasonal rains to the aquifer. And, as part of these efforts, we helped secure The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, the first refuge established in two decades, and the first of its kind in Florida. It links public and private lands with 150,000 acres for recreation, while helping restore the natural flow of water to the greater Everglades. These efforts are essential for improving water quality and preserving wildlife habitat.

Because large-scale water storage and treatment is key to restoring the health of the Everglades, we support the completion of the regional storage and water-quality projects that are part of state and federal programs for restoring the Everglades. We helped to secure $200 million in funding to support the multibillion dollar State and Federal Everglades restoration effort, including funding for completion of two large reservoirs, both of which capture excess discharges from Lake Okeechobee to protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries from harmful algal blooms caused by excess nutrients and pollution. These projects are critical to improving the health of the estuaries, which are damaged by high water releases from Lake Okeechobee. We also support completion of the Herbert Hoover dike to protect both people and nature from the damaging effects of flooding.

Florida's Essential South Dade Wetlands (1:40) 55,000 acres of freshwater wetlands span across south Florida, linking two national treasures: Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. TNC FL Field Rep. Roberto Torres describes how this critical land helps to recharge Florida's aquifer, preserving our precious fresh water resources.

Recovering Natural Springs

Florida’s springs provide critical groundwater to rivers and estuaries, while offering unique opportunities for swimming, fishing and other recreational pursuits. Visitors contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Florida’s economy each year.

Florida’s springs are struggling, though. The Floridan aquifer, the source of groundwater for most of Florida’s springs and 90 percent of the state’s drinking water, is being depleted as water demand from urban areas and unsustainable agricultural practices continually increase. Pollution, including fertilizer and sewage runoff, invasive species, excessive nutrients and erosion are also damaging the health of our springs.

Manatees playing in Three Sisters Spring, Crystal River, Florida
Manatees at Play Three Sisters Spring, Crystal River, Florida © Carol Grant

We are here to help. Our springs initiative focuses on collaborative approaches to placing freshwater springs into sustainable management and lasting protection. We’re taking a multifaceted approach in key springs and springsheds by developing restoration initiatives like pilot projects, studies, springshed planning, land protection and outreach. We’re using science to back us, examining water flows needed to make springs healthy. We’re demonstrating how industries can minimize their footprint in the springshed. We’re supporting education and outreach to further the springs legacy.

Despite recent declines in the quantity and quality of water, we believe vibrant communities with sustainable economies and healthy springs systems can coexist, but changes in people’s behavior and actions will be necessary. Protecting Florida’s iconic springs is essential for wildlife, such as the Florida manatee.

Legislative and Policy Work

We have been working to ensure Florida water law, rules and policies provide greater protection of water resources. We work closely with Florida legislators as well as in Washington.  In 2016, we secured specific language included in the Florida Water Bill, requiring projects that produce water for people and nature be planned and funded together. Our language was the only new language included in the bill during the 2016 session.

We also impacted The Legacy Florida Act, which dedicates 25 percent or $200 million of Amendment 1 funds to Everglades restoration and 7.6 percent or $50 million to springs protection. This legislation ensures a predictable revenue stream that will greatly improve project planning and completion to benefit the Everglades.

Old growth cypress trees
Old Growth Cypress trees in Florida © Beth Maynor

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We also made important strides through policy input in Central and South Florida. We received an appointment to the Management Oversight Committee of the Central Florida Water Initiative, the guiding body overseeing water supply planning spanning Orange, Osceola, Seminole and southern Lake counties, and three of the state’s five Water Management Districts. Participating in the Initiative gives us an extraordinary opportunity to shape water policies and practice in Florida. We also received an appointment to the Water Resources Advisory Commission, which provides input to the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board on Everglades restoration and other water resource initiatives in South and Central Florida.

TNC is hard at work on the ground, in the water, and with local, state and federal governments, universities, other environmental organizations, businesses, and individuals to ensure our freshwater future.

Peace Creek Watershed

Peace Creek Watershed

To further our freshwater mission, TNC Florida is submitting a Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation funding grant application administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunities’ Rebuild Florida General Planning Support Program. A grant of approximately $300,000 would fund the project described below. If you would like to comment on this or obtain a copy of the application, please email Beth Lewis at beth.lewis@tnc.org and Lesley Bertolotti at lesley.bertolotti@tnc.org on or before July 30.

Project Description

The Peace Creek Watershed is located in the heart of Central Florida, between Tampa and Orlando, which includes some of the fastest growing communities in the country. It’s unique hydrogeographic landscape includes high sandy ridges with freshwater lakes where recharge to the surficial and Floridan aquifers occurs, and a low-lying area where historically water was slowed down, stored and treated in wetlands. Changes to this landscape to accommodate human needs (i.e. urban and agricultural developments) has significantly reduced these natural functions and services with adverse consequences such as reduced resilience to storms and flooding, impaired water quality and changes to aquifer levels and water supply.

There are many regional water planning efforts that encompass all or a portion of this watershed. Involvement from key stakeholder such as adjacent communities, governments, businesses,  landowners, community-minded organizations and establishments are essential for maximizing the impact and  long-term success of these efforts. TNC is helping to accomplish this through establishing a working group that will bridge this gap by building trust, collaboration and support for these efforts through meaningful and productive stakeholder contributions. This multifaceted traditional and non-traditional action-minded group of stakeholders will be aimed at identifying and implementing solutions to challenges (e.g. such as funding for on the ground projects and removing barriers to implementing regional solutions), building new relationships and strengthening existing partnerships within the region. Among many things, this will open the door to co-development of solutions, innovative funding ideas, support for project implementation and continued investment in infrastructure and water resources.

It is anticipated that this Peace Creek One Water (POW!) Working Group will be focused on:

  • Building One Water supporters and change makers in the region to help drive multi-party solutions to water challenges, promote the One Water Master Plan, set the foundation for lasting leadership and resident support, and create two-way channels for meaningful communication with key community and business sectors;
  • Fostering meaningful collaborations and partnerships around One Water and exploring how other’s goals and visions can be met through the implementation of plan components, thus increasing the capacity for leveraging funding possibilities;
  • Helping to recognize and address common hazards increasing the Plan’s capability to benefit multiple communities;
  • Providing thoughtful input for consideration in the Master Plan development and implementation;
  • Exploring funding models for implementation of on-the-ground plan projects such as water funds, non-traditional partnerships and local bond initiatives;
  • Investigating the appetite and feasibility of innovative public/private partnership programs such as a water specific sector plan, regional stormwater ponds and a payment for environmental services program, and incentives to increase implantation potential.
  • Exploring approaches to removing barriers to an effective and consistent set of regional solutions.

In other areas this type of collaborative approach has greatly increased the implementation success of One Water efforts. For example, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) in Camden, NJ implemented almost 50 green infrastructure projects, five riverfront parks developments, and clean-up of 100 acres without raising taxes. The utility’s executive director attributes this to the collaborative relationships they have built and sustained through a similar program, and participants willingness to volunteer time and resources to further One Water*.  The City of Winter Haven supports this collaborative stakeholder effort herein and is committed to engaging in and incorporating this into development and implementation of their efforts.

*US Water Alliance. 2019. One Water Change Leadership for Utilities: Six Essential Capacities. View report.   

 

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Freshwater Factsheet

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