HOMESTEAD -- Water managers say a new Florida Bay restoration system functioned effectively during its first wet season.
"We are very happy so far," South Florida Water Management District engineer Jorge Jaramillo said last week.
The $26 million pump, canal and water retention project went online early this year. Located just east of the main entrance to Everglades National Park, the system is designed to divert water away from extreme South Florida's largest canal, the C-111, and toward Taylor Slough, Florida Bay's historical freshwater tributary.
Putting more water into the slough and the surrounding ecosystem will help reduce salt levels in the bay -- a move that scientists expect will revitalize the bay ecosystem.
According to water district data, managers used the system's two new pump stations to pull an average of 165 million gallons of water per day out of the C-111 canal from June through mid-November -- the equivalent of 244 Olympic-sized swimming pools daily.
All told, the new system was used to divert nearly 28 billion gallons of water from the C-111 during the wet season.
That water doesn't go directly into Taylor Slough, however. Rather, at the northern of the two pump sites it is moved half a mile west, where it is used to fill up an area known as the Frog Pond Retention Area, which is capable of holding 577 million gallons.
The Frog Pond, in turn, serves as a sort of bulwark against water from Everglades National Park, a bit further west, which otherwise would seep east and into the gaping C-111 canal. Blocked by the Frog Pond water wall, the slough's water will instead stay in the Everglades and gradually flow into the bay, engineers expect.
At the southern pump site, water is diverted from the C-111 in a southwesterly direction. After the cement-grounded canal gives way to an earthen floor, engineers expect the water to percolate into the ground, thereby hydrating surrounding areas.
With just one wet season under the system's belt, Jaramillo stressed that there just isn't enough information to know what impact it has had on the quality and quantity of freshwater flowing into Florida Bay. Such data needs to be analyzed over several years.
Still, environmentalists and Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimball alike are feeling optimistic.
"My sense from the reports I've seen is it's performing as advertised and this is a true benefit to Everglades National Park," Kimball said.
Tom Van Lent, a hydrologist for the nonprofit Everglades Foundation, said he has looked at early data related to the new restoration project and is pleased with what he has seen.
"Clearly through the wet season it has performed pretty well based on what Taylor Slough looks like through Everglades National Park," Van Lent said. "It's not dropping as fast as it normally would."
But Van Lent also emphasized that it is too early to make a final assessment. Yet to be seen, he said, is how much impact the Frog Pond will have during the dry season in keeping water in Taylor Slough.