History of Flint Pen Strand: Part Four

photos by Bill Zaino

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.

Sunrise above the lakes at Flint Pen Strand

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.

Wading birds at the Flint Pen Strand Lakes

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.

Permeable roads allow water to absorb into the ground and flow “downhill”

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!  

CREW Water Levels Rising Fast

The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) encompasses approximately 60,000 acres, running from Corkscrew Road in Lee County south beyond Immokalee Road in Collier County. You can see a map of the whole watershed here. When it rains enough for the ground to get saturated, water levels rise and then the water “sheet flows” downhill across the surface of the land.

In CREW, it takes about a week for the water to flow from the north part of the watershed to the south part. With the summer rains we’ve been lucky to get this year, we are seeing that sheet flow in action. CREW volunteer George Luther installed a few water level posts at Bird Rookery Swamp last year. He’s been recording measurements regularly and recently reported the change in water levels at the parking lot pond there. Take a look at the chart below showing the rise since July 1st.

Water Level Rise at Bird Rookery Swamp July 1 - 15, 2013
Water Level Rise at Bird Rookery Swamp July 1 – 15, 2013

We haven’t seen water levels like this during the early summer months here at CREW for a long time. This is great for water recharge and our drinking water supply. And the woods are teeming with wetland critters. It’ll be interesting to see what other changes occur as levels continue to rise as the summer goes on… What’s the highest water level you’ve experienced at CREW?

Water over Shady Hollow Blvd.
Water over Shady Hollow Blvd. at the entrance to Bird Rookery Swamp parking lot – July 15, 2013 (Photo by George Luther)

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