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.
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.
What you will find here...
...and what is at stake of being lost.