Fact Sheet 061-98

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Haag, K.H., Bernard, B.A., Bradner, L.A., McCulloch, D.S.,McPherson, B.F., and Miller, R.L., 1998, National Water-Quality Assessment Program: Study design for data collection in the southern Florida study unit, 1996-98: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-061-98, 4 p.


Compared with much of the United States, the hydrologic system of southern Florida is unique in many ways. The land is very flat, and surface waters are either distributed over large wetlands such as the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp or are confined in a highly controlled system of canals. Most of the large rivers have been channelized and flows are managed with control structures; the smaller rivers are primarily tidally affected coastal streams. Water moves rapidly between the surface and shallow ground water, depending on water-level gradients, so that the source of the water is difficult to distinguish. Because of the low relief and manipulation of flow, drainage basins are difficult to define.

The hydrologic system is also unique for political reasons. More than 5 million people live along the coast in close proximity to the wilderness wetlands of Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and other public lands. The warm climate that encourages people to live in the region also supports intense agricultural development. Competing interests--wilderness protection, urban expansion, and agricultural development--vie for available water resources. In this arena of competing water-resource demands, the largest environmental restoration effort in the world is underway: the protection and restoration of the Florida Everglades.

The SOFL NAWQA study unit encompasses about 19,500 square miles. The study unit contains large areas of intensive agricultural development, rangeland, and pasture land; has vast areas of wetlands, mostly in public ownership or under public control; and includes a large urban complex of about 4.5 million people. The natural systems in the study unit have been greatly altered by drainage, development, and water management, and water resources of the region have been significantly degraded.

Data collection is designed to address local, regional, and national water-quality concerns. Major water-quality issues of concern were identified in 1994 through the assistance of a local liaison committee of governmental officials, lay people, and others with an interest in water resources in southern Florida. The most important water-quality issues identified are nutrient enrichment, pesticide contamination, mercury contamination, habitat disturbance, and contamination of the Biscayne aquifer.