West Palm Beach, FL - The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for the past few years has been engaged in a study to determine how saltwater intrusion caused by sea level rise is impacting the peat that makes up much of the habitat in America's Everglades.
Peat soils consist of decomposed plant materials that accumulate very slowly over hundreds of years. Saltwater intrusion changes the characteristics of peat soils such that the land area may collapse by several feet. When this breakdown of peat soils happens, it allows salt water to further advance and harm the Everglades.
"This study represents just one of the various methods for assessing the impacts of sea level rise undertaken by the District," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Federico Fernandez. "The study is also aligned with the recommendations of the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP) for assessing the potential impact of sea level rise on Everglades restoration efforts."
CISRERP, an independent scientific panel that examines efforts to implement projects that are part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), recently released its Seventh Biennial "Progress Towards Restoring the Everglades" Report. In the report, the panel applauded the District's ongoing effort to improve water quality and restore the Everglades.
Also in the report, the CISRERP panel recommended assessing the potential impact of sea level rise on the performance of the state and federal restoration projects that make up CERP. The peat collapse study will help provide a crucial element of that sea level rise assessment.
The peat collapse study is a collaborative effort between scientists from SFWMD and Florida International University (with funding from the Florida Sea Grant program, the National Science Foundation, Everglades National Park and the Everglades Foundation).
"As CISRERP identified, impacts of sea level rise will be a key element in the planning of restoration of the Everglades ecosystem," said SFWMD Everglades System Section Administrator, Dr. Fred Sklar. "The scientific foundation we will gain from this study will be a crucial component to planning for those impacts."
In addition to the peat collapse study, SFWMD and its partners in restoration have already been assessing the potential impact of sea level rise in the planning of new projects for the past several years. An example of this is the Post Authorization Change Report for the Central Everglades Planning Project that was submitted by SFWMD for federal approval and cost sharing earlier this year and approved by the U.S. Congress earlier this month. That report lays out a plan to construct the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir. This project will store 240,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee, reducing coastal estuary releases while increasing the flow of water to the Everglades. The project will also feature a new 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area to achieve water quality standards. Furthermore, this report included an assessment of sea level rise and its potential impact upon the project's performance.
SFWMD has already been working for several years to address the potential impact of sea level rise on the District's ability to provide flood protection to its 8.1 million residents. These efforts factor in an estimated rate of future sea level rise that informs both operations and capital investments and are used in a basin-by-basin assessment of the level of flood protection provided by the canals, structures and pump stations. Also known as a flood protection level of service study, this research helps identify infrastructure needs and changes that are necessary to continue providing adequate flood protection in the future.
So far, SFWMD has already completed level of service studies for parts of Miami-Dade and Collier counties and is currently funded to continue its research for all basins in the future.
To further its water supply mission, SFWMD, in cooperation with the United States Geological Survey, conducts periodic mapping to locate and track the movement of the underground saltwater front. This effort, which covers coastal counties throughout much of the District, determines whether sea level rise or other factors are causing underground saltwater to intrude farther inland. This work, which is conducted as part of SFWMD's efforts to fulfill its core mission of ensuring adequate future water supply for the population's needs, is updated every five years and has been ongoing since 2009.
For more updates on SFWMD's work: