The largest river restoration project in the world!
The Historic Kissimmee River
Historic Kissimmee River
Located in Florida’s Heartland, the Kissimmee River historically meandered 103 miles from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee through a diversely rich 1-3 mile wide floodplain. During periods of heavy rains, the river would fill to capacity, sending the excess water into the river’s floodplain. Waterfowl, largemouth bass, eagles, alligators, aquatic invertebrates and a mosaic of broadleaf plants thrived within the floodplain ecosystem. However, in 1947 prolonged flooding brought forth by hurricanes inundated the Kissimmee basin as well as the surrounding cities prompting citizens to cry out for flood control.
Channelizing the Kissimmee River
Channelizing Kissimmee River , 1965
In 1948, the U.S. Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct the Central and South Florida Project. From 1960-1971, the Kissimmee River was transformed from a beautiful, meandering river into a 56-mile-long ditch – 300 feet wide and 30 feet deep – known as the C-38 canal. In addition, six water control structures were created to manage flooding within the central Florida basin. As a result of this ditch-and-drain effort, the wetland-dependent flora and fauna that once thrived in the Kissimmee system declined drastically. Studies showed a 90% decrease in waterfowl and a 70% decrease in Bald Eagle populations. Replacing the once popular largemouth bass fisheries were fish species that were more tolerant of a system lower in dissolved oxygen.
Kissimmee River Restoration
Phase I Restored River
In 1992, U.S. Congress authorized the Water Resources Development Act to implement the Kissimmee River Restoration project, which is a cost-shared endeavor between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the USACE. The Kissimmee River Restoration will reestablish the ecological integrity of the river by backfilling the middle third of the C-38 canal to restore flow and the lost benefits of the original pre-channelized river. Spanning from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (including Lake Cypress and Hatchineha) down to Lake Okeechobee, the Kissimmee River Restoration Project will restore over 40 square miles of the river/floodplain ecosystem, including 40 miles of meandering river and more than 12,000 acres of wetlands. With its projected completion in 2014, SFWMD scientists have developed a comprehensive evaluation plan to measure the success of the restoration project, which will be in effect until 2018.
When the project is complete, 22 miles of C-38 canal will be backfilled, 2 water control structures will be removed, numerous miles of historic meandering sections of old river oxbows will have flow and habitat restored and communities and utilities within the Kissimmee watershed will be equipped with new flood protection measures.
Restoration to Date:
Pool D-Oxbow Dredging
Flora and fauna that disappeared when the system was channelized have returned in great numbers and are now thriving in the newly restored system. To date there have been three back filling phases completed, one water control structure has been removed and continuous water flow has been reestablished to 24 miles of the historic meandering Kissimmee River. The final stage of the project, Phase 2/3, began in December 2009 with the River Acres Flood Reduction Project and is scheduled to be completed by 2015.
Current Construction Project
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) is in charge of the construction projects needed to restore the Kissimmee River. They work in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District who is in charge of biological monitoring, land acquisition and education.
Currently there are four construction projects underway in the Kissimmee Basin:
River Acres Flood Reduction
The purpose of the project is to maintain the level of flood protection and navigation for the River Acres community located along the river in Okeechobee County in Pool D.
The project includes the dredging of a new navigation canal, and building a bridge and water control structure.
The C-37 Canal between Lakes Kissimmee and Lake Hatchineha is being widened and deepened so that the upper chain of lakes can have the same level of flood protection as the Kissimmee River Restoration Valley. The widening increases the conveyance capacity of the canal.
Pool D Oxbow Dredging
The oxbows in Pool D of the Kissimmee River will be dredged and reconnected, reestablishing the flow through those sections of the river once the next phase of backfilling of the C-38 canal is complete.
The construction of a new railroad bridge over the historic river oxbow will allow boats to navigate through the historic channel once flow is reestablished.