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South Florida Canal Aquatic Life Study

The Central & Southern Florida (C&SF) Project, which was authorized by Congress in 1948, has dramatically altered the waters of south Florida. The current C&SF Project includes 2,600 miles of canals, over 1,300 water control structures, and 64 pump stations. The C&SF Project, which is operated by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), provides water supply, flood control, navigation, water management, and recreational benefits to South Florida. In addition to the four main canals running from Lake Okeechobee to the lower east coast, there are many more miles of primary, secondary and tertiary canals operated as a part of or in conjunction with the C&SF or as a part of other water management facilities within the SFWMD. Other entities operating associated canals include counties and special drainage districts.

There is a great deal of diversity in the design, construction and operation of these canals. The hydrology of the canals is highly manipulated by a series of water control structures and levees that have altered the natural hydroperiods and flows of the South Florida watershed on regional to local scales. To maintain the water-handling capacity of the water control system, a great deal of vegetation management is necessary, since dense vegetation greatly decreases the hydraulic conductivity of the canal system. Additionally, the various canal locations and surrounding land uses impact the water quality, soil type and topography of the canals.

As a consequence of canal design and maintenance, aquatic life expectations for canals are different that those for natural, flowing waters. Due to the physical nature of canals, their hydrology, the aquatic vegetation maintenance activities, and the resultant effects on dissolved oxygen and other chemical constituents of the canals, the aquatic life in canals cannot be expected to be the same as that of natural, flowing waters. The existing biological expectations for natural streams [e.g., as measured by the Stream Condition Index (SCI)] are likely inappropriate (unachievable) for most canals, predominantly due to the habitat and hydrologic modifications in canals. To perform a comprehensive assessment of South Florida canals and the aquatic life associated with those canals, the department has initiated a South Florida Canal Aquatic Life Study. The assessment will focus only on the freshwater portions of South Florida canals (i.e., all monitoring stations will be upstream of any salinity control structures). The objectives associated with the study are: 

  1.  Assess aquatic life in South Florida canals; 
  2.  Determine interrelationships between aquatic life in canals and other variables that affect aquatic life; 
  3.  Evaluate the differences in conditions for South Florida canals; and
  4.  Collect information that can be used to guide management decisions.

It is the department’s intent to implement this study through a collaborative approach, with input and assistance from the variety of stakeholders with expertise on the assessment of aquatic life in South Florida canals and/or responsibility for their operation and maintenance.

Draft South Florida Canal Aquatic Life Study (October 29, 2012 - 1.4 MB)

Last Modified:
April 3, 2019 - 2:53pm

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