Kissimmee River

The restoration of 40 miles of river and floodplain is proof that these massive projects can be completed and show immediate results.

Several people navigate Kissimee River shallows in an airboat
Habitat is Life:

Simon and Hannah get a up-close view of the restored floodplain.

The Kissimmee River originally meandered through central Florida for 100 miles, its clean water filtered by marshes and grasslands before it flowed into Lake Okeechobee. But after a series of devastating floods in the 1940s, the river was rerouted and transformed into a straight, 50-mile channel, made up of six pools controlled by gates and locks, in an effort to manage the floods. Waterfowl practically disappeared, aquatic birds were replaced by terrestrial species, and wetland habitats became pastures for cattle. Public outcry, especially from hunters and anglers who saw fewer ducks and bass, started the decades-long road to restoration. Construction on the new river channel finally began in 2000 and was completed in the spring of 2021. The middle 22 miles of the Kissimmee have been restored to 40 miles of meandering river and floodplain, with water flowing through its historic channel. 

A map of the Everglades Watershed with Kissimmee River marked on the map with an orange circle just north of Lake Okeechobee
Moss-covered dead trees rise above wetlands
Three people talking on the banks of a river

Now that the construction phase is complete, the next step is to improve the hydrology and establish a water-release schedule. The results so far have been nothing short of fantastic. After the first wet season, pastures began returning to wetlands, and within a year, waterfowl, wading birds, and filter-feeding invertebrates began to come back. Invasive aquatic vegetation and sediment were flushed downstream, making the water clearer and revealing the river’s sandy bottom. Kissimmee restoration is proof that such massive habitat-restoration efforts work. It’s one of the largest river-restoration projects ever attempted, and it managed to succeed despite setbacks caused by funding problems, the vagaries of several state administrations, as well as legal challenges. Its completion has created optimism and momentum for other projects that are part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

An airboat travels through the winding channels of the Kissimmee River

What you will find here...

...and what is at stake of being lost.

A line drawing of the Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus)

Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus)

The Gastronome of the Sunfish Family

A long, black earflap is the immediate sign that you’re looking at a redbreast sunfish and not a typical bluegill, which is, in fact, the stillwater cousin of the redbreast. Found only in the rivers of northern Florida, this diminutive sunfish consumes a varied diet consisting of bottom-dwelling insect larvae, snails, clams, shrimp, crayfish, and small fish. Despite their healthy appetite, redbreasts grow quite slowly and take up to three years to reach six inches in length.

A line drawing of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Purple Power

Growing in shallow water usually no more than a foot deep, pickerelweed is easily identified by its shiny green, lance-shaped leaves and purple flower spikes, which both butterflies and ducks find irresistible. A prolific grower, pickerelweed helps to stabilize the banks along waterways. Beneath the surface, its submerged portion provides a habitat for small marine life, a food source for fish, amphibians, ducks, and reptiles.

A line drawing of a White Ibis (Eudocimis albus)

White Ibis (Eudocimis albus)

Beauty in the Beak

The white ibis is typically found in large groups throughout the state of Florida, primarily in coastal marshes, wetlands, mangroves, flooded pastures, mudflats, and swamps. There, it uses its uniquely shaped downturned beak to probe the ground as it forages for crustaceans, fish, snakes, frogs, and insects. Their nests can be constructed on the ground or perched as high as 50 feet up in the trees. In the more populated areas of southern Florida, white ibis can be often seen on lawns and in parks.

An American alligator floats on the Kissimmee River
Apex Predator:

The American alligator thrives in the restored Kissimmee floodplain.

Three people fishing off a small boat on a green ocean

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