Virtual Field Trip 1: Estero River, an outstanding natural resource in rapidly-growing Southwest Florida suburbia, with headwaters protected by FGCU’s campus
Wednesday, November 10 | 12:00 PM ET
The Estero River is an outstanding natural resource in a densely populated region, draining a small coastal watershed in southwestern Florida. The Estero’s headwaters are dispersed across low flat former wetlands, filled by an average 54 inches of rainfall and a wet season that raises the water table to generate seasonal standing surface wetlands – before most of those were ditched, drained, filled and elevated for suburban land uses. The dispersed headwaters include the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University, whose 400 acres include some 200 acres of preserved wetlands, and with stormwater management practiced so that ponds, wetlands, and pervious surfaces blunt the peak of most storms’ hydrographs to such an extent that nearly no water left campus even after the one-day 8-inch rainfall of Hurricane Irma in 2017. From its upstream origins the river gathers in multiple drain pipes and roadside channels to become a defined stream only some 10 miles from the ocean, and the intense residential, commercial, and transportation land uses contribute water quality challenges including bacteria, nutrients, and metals. Regulations have identified the Estero River as impaired for several constituents, and local municipalities have engaged FGCU and regional consulting engineers and hydrologists to characterize problems, identify sources, and begin a process of planning to restore water quality. The River is tidal for nearly all its length, so that understanding sources, transport, and fate of pollutants is a fascinating complex challenge to consider tidal mixing combined with episodic, diverse, and highly variable source activities. The river discharges into Estero Bay, home to wading and nesting birds; productive feeding ground for migrating manatees; spawning grounds for countless marine fishes; and host to hundreds of acres of shellfish. Estero Bay is designated an Outstanding Florida Water – with regulatory protections specifying no degradation in water quality, a challenge in the densely developed watershed. Estero Bay’s shorelines includes multiple protected areas, a success story for conservation since the 1970s when development intensified in the region, but the privately held portions of the shore are under development pressure, and the shallow-water seagrasses are sharply declining in a trend all too common in southwest Florida estuaries). The Estero Bay’s natural beauty, little diminished to the observer’s eye, is a visual treat for the field trip, belying the risk of continuing degradation as the local stakeholders work to protect and restore the Bay and its tributary waters.
Field trip video by
Speakers on the video include: experts on the Estero Bay ecosystem (Ms. Kelly Dino, graduate student and boat captain, and Dr. Win Everham, ecologist specializing in mangrove resilience); experts on watershed development and water quality (Dr. Don Duke, Dr. Serge Thomas, and Kelly Dino, researchers studying fecal bacteria in urban systems); and experts on hydrology in the watershed, especially the FGCU campus (Dr. Rachel Rotz, FGCU hydrogeologist, and Roger Copp, hydrologist modeling south Lee County including the Estero’s groundwater system).
The Water School, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU)
Technical presentation / Q &A by
- L. Donald Duke, Ph.D., P.E., Professor, Water Resources, FGCU
- Rachel Rotz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Hydrogeology, FGCU
- Kelly Dino, M.S. Environmental Studies candidate, FGCU
- Madison Mullen, M.S. Environmental Studies candidate, FGCU