Water is complex, from fresh water in Lake Okeechobee to saltwater in the Gulf of Mexico and the estuaries where they meet. A slight ripple in their conditions can have a wave of impacts on those who rely on it.
“We have a lot of different types of users. People on Sanibel don’t want harmful algal blooms in their backyard, for example. People upstream use the Caloosahatchee River for drinking water,” said Greg Tolley, executive director of The Water School.
That’s why water managers search for what Tolley calls the Goldilocks zone regarding releases.
“So we need to have freshwater inflow coming into the system. We just there’s sometimes there’s not enough, there’s some times where there’s way too much,” said Tolley.
The more scientists study the water, the better water managers can refine water delivery schedules. That’s why students from The Water School at FGCU collect data on the Caloosahatchee River at night.
“We just want to understand like a good baseline. What does the environment look like when there are no disturbances?” said Laura Dunn, a graduate student in The Water School.
“The reason is the South Florida Water Management District is looking to see what the potential positive effects of the new C43 West Basin Storage Reservoir on fish food and the system,” said Tolley. “What happens when this new reservoir is in place, and it starts releasing extra water during the dry time of the year and storing more freshwater during the wet time of the year.”
Sampling for this project is monthly during the dry season and every other month during the wet season.
“One of the problems that estuaries face these days is how we as humans influence the natural amount of freshwater flow that enters them that creates the kind of balance of life that produces a healthy estuary with healthy fish food and healthy fish,” Tolley said.
Without healthy fish food, everything higher on the food web is thrown off.
Researchers use a net to collect the fish food, microscopic organisms that come to the surface at night.
“If we understand what animals are living in the surface of the water, what times of the year, if we see a big shift or a big difference, we can identify maybe a source for that difference, something that we did, or maybe something environmental, which is why we take water quality readings as well,” said Dunn.
“We have the YSI up front, which is basically a giant water test kit in a stick, said Michael Ryan, a student in The Water School. “These are going to be all the probes that tell us the parameters of the water. So we have dissolved oxygen PH levels, salinity turbidity to see how much stuff is floating around in the water.”
The project studying the water has been underway for the past two years. The data will be used to help with future decisions surrounding our water.