Photo: Well below normal
A gauge along the Cypress Board Walk at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge indicates the low water conditions brought on by the drought. The normal water level should be around the 16.90 mark on the gauge, which is not calibrated to sea level.(Sun-Sentinel/Mark Randall) Apr 13, 2007
State water managers want permission from the federal government to use more Everglades water than usually allowed to restock drought-strained drinking water supplies - half of which typically ends up irrigating lawns and landscapes. That would lower the Everglades water conservation areas beyond limits set to protect wildlife habitat. Just how badly fish, bird and alligator populations would suffer depends on how low the water goes and for how long. Shrinking fish populations, wading birds forced to nest elsewhere and alligators wandering into urban areas to look for water are among the potential ramifications. Long-term concerns include muck fires burning away habitat, and melaleuca and other non-native plants further invading natural areas. It would be a "painful" decision to dip deeper into Everglades water, but ONE OF THE WORST DROUGHTS IN HISTORY might require it. Using more water from the conservation areas to bail out well fields "intensifies" drought problems in the Everglades. "It's all connected. You are going to reduce the entire food chain...It takes several years for that to come back." Lake Okeechobee has dropped 5 feet below normal. The drought, coupled with a decision last year to lower the lake in advance of hurricanes that never materialized, leaves the lake about 10 feet above sea level. After a two-year drought that ended in 1990, it took six years for Everglades bird populations to rebound. Building more reservoirs to capture rainwater now drained to sea, tapping deeper underground sources and recycling more wastewater for irrigation are among the alternatives to taking more water from the Everglades.
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