by Jayne Johnston, Education Coordinator, CREW Trust
I sincerely hope you enjoyed the previous blogs in this series by our CREW Trust Volunteer, Nan Mattingly, and the people who provided support for the information she shared (Brenda Brooks, Executive Director, CREW Trust; Ben Nelson, CREW Trust chairman.)
Nan did a great job providing an eagle’s eye view of hydrologic restoration. The intent of this final blog in the series is to fill in some of the finer details. I hope as you’re driving to CREW, you take notice of the changing landscape around you, from the developed areas to our conserved and restored lands of the CREW Project.
Let’s start with a liquid water molecule, which is 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 atom of oxygen. H2O has cohesive properties, meaning the molecules bond tightly to each other. Liquid water molecules condense in the sky (clouds) and fall to the ground (rain). The land absorbs the liquid water through soils, roots, and leaves of plants. Absorption slows as soils become saturated over the rainy season. Molecules in marshes, sloughs, domes, and swamps bond with the falling molecules, volume increases, and water levels rise. Water molecules also interact with our ecosystems through evaporation – water becomes gas (think humidity!) – and transpiration (plant sweat from leaves). There is one state of water that CREW does not experience and one of the reasons so many of us live here and that is its frozen state more commonly known as snow and ice.
Water on the landscape moves from higher elevation (uphill) to lower elevation (downhill). Then gravity plays a role – the important role – of recharging the aquifer by pulling the water through the soils and the porous limestone (percolation) and into the aquifer where it is stored for later use.
Water also moves in the path of least resistance on land. Before development, that would have been along the uneven landscape of rivers, streams, and creeks, created over 20,000 years by a changing climate. Post development – ditches, canals, or channels – were dug to drain water, creating dry land for buildings like where you and I live, work, and play. These paths concentrate the flow of water causing it to move away from the CREW Project. Sometimes this can happen too quickly for contaminants to be filtered, flooding to be controlled, or the aquifer to be recharged and less drinking water for people.
Water that is not absorbed and filtered by the soils, plants, and limestone, or deposited in ditches, canals, or channels, flows across the land in a thin sheet of water (sheetflow), to the Imperial River, then Fish Trap Bay (the southernmost end of Estero Bay) and into the Gulf of Mexico. Even estuaries like Fish Trap Bay and the Gulf of Mexico need freshwater because of the plants and animals living there. When water flows across the landscape, it can pick up speed and contaminants along the way, which is what the CREW Project attempts to mitigate.
Wetland restoration improves the functionality of ecosystems of the CREW Project by removing invasives and surfaces like roads that prevent water absorption. Additional benefits are flooding mitigation and wildlife protection. The CREW watershed lands are owned by the South Florida Water Management, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Lee County Conservation 20/20, Conservation Collier, and a few private inholdings. The ownership collaboration is why we call the CREW Watershed the CREW Project. Through these owners, the watershed will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. You can support our collective efforts through memberships and volunteering for the CREW Trust, supporting land purchase opportunities by government and nonprofit organizations, and speaking up on behalf of the land, the plants, and animals, to your family, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. Thank you for your support!