Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices

Chapter 24: Headwater Restoration and Reestablishment of Natural Flow Regimes: Kissimmee River of Florida

L. A. Toth, D. A. Arrington, and G. Begue

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569049.ch24

The Kissimmee River basin was once part of a vast, contiguous wetland system that extended from central Florida south to Florida Bay (Figure 24.1). The northern portion of the Kissimmee River basin formed the headwaters of this wetland landscape and included a 1,633 square-mile watershed with 26 lakes that ranged in size from a few acres to 55.5 square miles. The headwater lakes were linked by interconnecting sloughs (marsh that commonly transports overland water flow) and flanking wetlands and, during wet-season months, by high water stages (Parker 1955). The Kissimmee River originated at the southern end of Lake Kissimmee and provided the principal outlet for the upper basin watershed. The river meandered approximately 103 miles through a 1- to 2-mile-wide floodplain before emptying into Lake Okeechobee, the second largest (668 square miles) lake in the conterminous United States. The historical Everglades originated as overflow from the southern end of Lake Okeechobee and formed a 60-mile-wide, 3,800-square-mile “river of grass” that dominated the south Florida landscape. The river, lakes, and wetlands of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades basin were a haven for fish and wildlife, including large flocks of wading birds, overwintering waterfowl, and a nationally recognized centrarchid-based sport fishery. (USFWS 1959; Myers and Ewel 1990; Toth 1993; Davis and Ogden 1994b; Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, unpublished data).