|What's happening? |
A multidisciplinary team led by Florida’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) has received an $815,000 grant for a three-year project to help local communities manage fresh-water flows in the Henderson Creek watershed. In consultation with an advisory group consisting of hydrological engineers, social researchers, resource managers, and community stakeholders, the team is generating science to better understand the freshwater flows needed to maintain the health of the watershed’s Rookery Bay Estuary and the perspectives of water users and decision makers. As part of this project, investigators are creating a framework that stakeholders can use to collaborate and make decisions about water issues into the future.
Why this project?
One of the few pristine, mangrove-forested estuaries in the U.S., the Rookery Bay Estuary is a critical breeding ground for commercial and recreational fisheries, like blue crab, stone crab, snook, tarpon and snapper. Each year, thousands of tourists are drawn to its vast expanses of natural space, where they fish, swim, kayak, and experience manatees, dolphins, and coastal birds in their native surroundings.
The health of the Estuary and its wildlife depend on seasonally appropriate flows of freshwater, that range from nearly 134 million cubic feet per day in the wet season to none in the dry season. These freshwater flows also sustain communities in surrounding Collier County and on nearby Marco Island. Population growth and saltwater intrusion of community and government wells (an increasingly common event in southern Florida) are placing further stress on available freshwater. Compounding the situation are the area’s highly managed water control structures and canals that mitigate flooding, but also disrupt the natural sheet flow conditions necessary for estuarine health.
Balancing the water needs of people with those of the natural systems on which they depend for jobs and recreation is becoming an increasing challenge as communities grow and sea levels rise in southwest Florida. This project aims to address this challenge by increasing knowledge of the water flow parameters necessary for estuarine health in Rookery Bay, understanding the attitudes of water users to inform future educational efforts, and developing a community-based decision-making tool for water use and allocation.