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Wild Florida

Rainfall ends record low water levels at Myakka

Periodic dry conditions, resulting from extended drought, regulate and benefit plant and animal communities.


Low water levels concentrate fish and other aquatic animals, sustaining migratory and native wading birds, including imperiled species like wood storks.
Low water levels concentrate fish and other aquatic animals, sustaining migratory and native wading birds, including imperiled species like wood storks.
Photo by Miri Hardy
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Myakka's ecosystems have evolved to depend and thrive on a regular ebb and flow of water.

Rainfall is the primary driver for varying water levels in the Myakka River and its two floodplain lakes — the Upper Myakka Lake and Lower Myakka Lake. Spring usually brings the start of rainy season. And by summer, water levels are typically highest, and overflow into floodplain marshes and wetlands. In the fall and winter — dry season — water levels gradually drop, with periods of low water, or drawdown.

With some years wetter and some drier, differences in the fluctuating water levels naturally occur over multiyear cycles. In fact, extended periods of low water are typical for the Myakka River system and occur about one out of every four years. And indeed, this spring, water levels in the entire Myakka system were notably very low.

These low levels largely reflected a very dry spring, with almost no rainfall in April or May. Secondary factors included less water entering the Myakka watershed as a result of agriculture, thanks to improved farm watering practices, directed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

In recent years, farm water artificially inflated dry season levels. Also, with rising temperatures, water evaporation rates have increased. Finally, recent hurricanes breached several agricultural water diversion berms in Tatum Sawgrass Marsh, directly upriver from the park, restoring large areas of the original floodplain. 

As expected, the removal of a deteriorating weir and culverts at the Upper Myakka Lake's outflow in 2022, which was already breached, had no impact on this season's water levels.

Though this year's period of low water isn’t the lowest ever recorded, it is the lowest in decades. And while it may seem counter-intuitive, variability in water levels and low water periods are extremely beneficial for Myakka's ecosystems. They help regulate plant and wildlife communities and promote biodiversity.

By concentrating fish and other aquatic animals into shallow pools, this spring's extended drought attracted unusually large flocks of wading birds to the park, including hundreds of federally designated threatened wood storks and countless other wading birds.

 

author

Miri Hardy

Miri Hardy is the first executive director of Friends of Myakka River, a nonprofit that supports Myakka River State Park. She’s been a Sarasota resident since 2014 and holds a doctorate in social psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. Miri is happiest exploring wild Florida, often on her bike, and capturing its beauty with her camera.

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