Water-Related News

Why the state of the Caloosahatchee matters to the refuge

Lake Okeechobee is often criticized as a source of the pollution that periodically surrounds the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. While that criticism is justified, it sometimes overshadows the role played by the Caloosahatchee.

The Caloosahatchee is one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. In 2006, the Caloosahatchee was recognized as one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the United States. The bottom line is that in a typical year, runoff from the Caloosahatchee contributes roughly half of the pollutants that surround the refuge.

Historically, the Caloosahatchee was a small meandering river that was not connected to Lake Okeechobee. Starting in the late 19th century, a series of projects to dredge and channelize the river removed the bends in the river, referred to as oxbows, and connected the river to the lake. As a result, water that used to flow south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, now flows to the refuge on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.