The Kissimmee Basin encompasses more than two dozen lakes in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (KCOL), their tributary streams and associated marshes and the Kissimmee River and floodplain. The basin forms the headwaters of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades; together they comprise the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades (KOE) system. In the 1960s, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control (C&SF) Project modified the native KOE system extensively throughout South Florida, including construction of canals and water control structures to achieve flood control in the Upper and Lower Kissimmee basins.
Major initiatives in the Kissimmee Basin are the Kissimmee River Restoration Project (which includes Construction Projects), the Kissimmee River Restoration Evaluation Program, the Kissimmee Basin Modeling and Operations Study and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Long-Term Management Plan. A number of activities are associated with these projects, including ecosystem restoration, evaluation of restoration efforts, aquatic plant management, land management, water quality improvement and water supply planning.
The Kissimmee River once meandered for 103 miles through central Florida. Its floodplain, reaching up to 3 miles wide, was inundated for long periods by heavy seasonal rains. Native wetland plants, wading birds and fish thrived there, but prolonged flooding in 1947 prompted a public outcry for federal assistance to reduce flood damage to property. In 1948, the U.S. Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the Central and South Florida Project, which led to engineering changes to deepen, straighten and widen the waterway. more »
In the 1960s, the Kissimmee River was channelized by cutting and dredging a 30-feet-deep straightaway through the river's meanders: the C-38 canal. Before channelization was complete, biologists suspected the project would have devastating ecological consequences. While the project delivered on the promise of flood protection, it also destroyed much of a floodplain-dependent ecosystem that nurtured threatened and endangered species, as well as hundreds of other native fish and wetland-dependent animals. More than 90 percent of the waterfowl that once graced the wetlands disappeared and the number of bald eagle nesting territories decreased by 70 percent. After the waterway was transformed into a straight, deep canal, it became oxygen-depleted and the fish community it supported changed dramatically.
After extensive planning, construction for the Kissimmee River Restoration Project began in 1999 with backfilling 8 miles of the C-38 canal. Three construction phases are now complete, and continuous water flow has been reestablished to 24 miles of the meandering Kissimmee River. Seasonal rains and flows now inundate the floodplain in the restored area.
The Kissimmee River Restoration Project will return flow to 40 miles of the river's historic channel and restore about 40 square miles of river/floodplain ecosystem. The restoration project – a 50-50 partnership with the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – is currently projected to be complete by 2019.
The Kissimmee River Restoration Project was authorized by Congress in the 1992 Water Resources Development Act. The project will restore 40 miles of meandering river and more than 12,000 acres of wetlands. The restoration project is a joint partnership between the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Kissimmee Basin stretches from south of the Orlando area to Lake Okeechobee and is divided into the Upper and Lower Kissimmee Basins. The Upper Kissimmee Basin includes the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and extends to State Road 60 at the outlet of Lake Kissimmee. The Lower Basin includes the area from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee. The area affected by construction for the Kissimmee River Restoration Project includes the southernmost headwater lakes including Lakes Kissimmee, Cypress, and Hatchineha, and the Kissimmee River and floodplain between Lake Kissimmee and Lake Okeechobee.
Construction for the Kissimmee River Restoration Project includes backfilling of approximately one-third of the C-38 canal to reconnect and restore flow to the historic river. Other construction associated with the Kissimmee River Restoration Project includes levee removal, water control structure improvements, flood protection, and various infrastructure improvements within the project area including the headwater lakes. Three backfilling phases are now complete, and continuous water flow has been reestablished to 24 miles of the meandering Kissimmee River.
A key element of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project is a comprehensive ecological evaluation program to:
Assess achievement of the project goal of ecological integrity
Identify linkages between restoration project and observed changes
Support adaptive management as construction proceeds and after project completion
The Kissimmee River Restoration Evaluation Program (KRREP) is a comprehensive monitoring and assessment program designed to evaluate ecosystem responses to the restoration project. To detect ecosystem changes, data are collected prior to major construction phases to establish a baseline for evaluating future responses. These baseline data will be compared to data collected after construction and reestablishment of pre-channelization hydrologic conditions. Observed changes in the system will be compared to predictions described by individual restoration expectations to evaluate whether each expectation has been achieved. If an expectation is not achieved, adaptive management strategies may be implemented.
The Kissimmee Basin Modeling and Operations Study (KBMOS) was a South Florida Water Management District initiative to identify alternative water control structure operating criteria for the Kissimmee Basin and its associated water resource projects. The goal was to align upstream and downstream operations with the Kissimmee River Restoration Project discharges at S-65 and to enhance/sustain habitat conditions for fish and wildlife throughout the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The study was put on hold in October 2013 due to Kissimmee River Restoration Project cost-crediting issues that have since been resolved. In November 2013, the SFWMD and USACE concurred on moving forward with implementation of the Headwaters Revitalization Schedule after completion of restoration project construction. The Headwaters Revitalization Schedule will be implemented as outlined in the Central and Southern Florida Project, Kissimmee River Headwaters Revitalization Project: Integrated Project Modification Report and Supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (USACE, 1996) and authorized in the 1996 Record of Decision. If restoration targets are not being met after implementation of the Headwaters Revitalization Schedule, the USACE and SFWMD will determine: (1) if modifications to the schedule are required and (2) the approach that will be taken to develop potential modifications. This study was independent of, but closely related to, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Long-Term Management Plan.
Sustaining and Enhancing the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes
Historically, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the Kissimmee River were an integrated system comprised of headwater lakes connected by broad shallow wetlands and creeks. The Chain of Lakes, like the river, was substantially altered by the construction of the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project. Today, water managers and scientists are working to enhance and protect these habitats for the environmental, recreational and economic benefits they provide. more »
Not only does the Chain of Lakes serve the flood protection needs of Central Florida, there are numerous recreational activities, including world-class bass fishing and wildlife viewing enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. In addition, the lakes and associated wetlands provide a variety of environmental services including habitat for fish and wildlife and nutrient removal.
For many years, the Chain of Lakes was managed primarily for flood protection. Management for flood protection stressed the natural environment valued by outdoor enthusiasts. Lessons learned from the Kissimmee River channelization and restoration taught us that a more comprehensive approach is needed to keep the Chain of Lakes and the Kissimmee River healthy. In 2003, the District's Governing Board recognized that need and authorized the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Long-Term Management Plan.
The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Long-Term Management Plan is a multi-agency project that is designed to enhance and sustain the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. With advice and input from various stakeholders, including recreational user groups, business interests, environmental partners and residents, the plan addresses hydrologic management, water quality, fish and wildlife, water supply and recreation and public use.
The goals of the plan are to enhance and sustain the health of the lake ecosystems, define strategies that minimize the negative effects of human activities on natural systems, coordinate lake and watershed management activities across agencies and provide continual ecosystem health assessment through routine monitoring and agency actions.
Partner agencies include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local governments and community leaders, and other basin stakeholders. The following links provide more information on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Long-Term Management Plan.
The Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area Hydrologic Restoration Project was a joint project between the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to restore more natural hydrology and wetland function to the Wildlife Management Area. The Wildlife Management Area is located north of State Route 60 on the east side of Lake Kissimmee and encompasses approximately 62,000 acres. The majority of the area belongs to the Florida dry prairie ecosystem and contains a mosaic of dry and wet prairie, marshes, flatwoods, hammocks and cypress sloughs and ponds. The area supports one of the highest densities of bald eagles in the lower 48 states and is rich in a variety of other wildlife resources including crested caracaras, sandhill cranes, red-shouldered hawks, northern bobwhites, eastern meadowlarks, red-cockaded woodpecker, grasshopper sparrow, white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, Sherman's fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, Osceola turkey, armadillos, raccoons and feral hogs. Fish species include bluegill, redear sunfish, black crappie, largemouth bass and catfish.
The restoration project, initiated in 2006, is being completed in phases. Phase I and II are complete. Phase I assessed historic hydrology and Phase II developed the restoration plan. Due to decreased Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revenues, Phase III was revised to include only the design and permitting work associated with replacement of the G-113 structure. Phase III was completed in April 2011 and construction of the G-113 replacement structure was completed in August 2012. Future phases of the work will proceed as FWC funding becomes available.
The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and Kissimmee Upper Basin Monitoring and Assessment Project initiated in 2010 to address data gaps and knowledge uncertainties identified during the development of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Long-Term Management Plan and the 2008-2009 Kissimmee Basin Water Reservations rule development effort. The project includes data collection, evaluation, and reporting activities to support water resource management and protection. Since its initiation in 2010, bathymetric and littoral vegetation data have been collected; water quality sampling has expanded to include additional tributary sample sites; and water and nutrient budgets are under development for major lakes within the Chain.
Listed below are links to initiatives or projects directly and indirectly related to Kissimmee Basin initiatives. The list also includes projects in the interconnected Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem with associated benefits to this basin.