The Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday approved a South Florida Water Management District request for authorization to use temporary forward pumps to pull water from Lake Okeechobee lower than gravity-flow will allow, and now, the Corps has agreed to reduce that permit extension to one year only, in part to allow for a thorough analysis of the impacts of the pumps on the endangered Everglades snail kite. The announcement is an important one for the environmental group Audubon of Florida, which has long fought for the snail kite habitat.
The health of the snail kite is known to be indicative of the overall health of the Everglades system. Because the species’ diet consists almost solely of apple snails, the survival of the snail kite depends directly on the hydrology and water quality of the watersheds near which they live. Water conservation measures are imperative in order to comprehensively protect not only the kite habitat, but the greater Everglades ecosystem as a whole.
According to the National Park Service, the range of the Florida population of snail kites is restricted to watersheds in the central and southern part of the state. The species was listed as endangered in 1967.
“With three severe droughts hitting Lake Okeechobee in less than a decade, it is crucial for state and federal agencies to look closely at impacts of low water levels on the Everglade Snail Kite,” Everglades Policy Associate Jane Graham said in a press release sent out Thursday afternoon. “The Corps’ decision to renew the permit pending an evaluation of the impact of forward pumps on Lake ecology is an encouraging step in the right direction.”
Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said that regulatory agencies (like the South Florida Water Management District) need to “rethink how water from Lake Okeechobee is being used throughout the year to put the environment on par with the sugar industry and other users.”