Canals are what make much of South Florida habitable. When constructed, primarily in the 1950s, our canal system allowed man to drain certain areas for housing and handle heavy rainwater run-off.
In our neck of the woods, the Cutler Drain Canal runs 13.5-miles and is numbered the C-100 canal system (C-100, C-100A, C-100B, and C-100C). It stretches from around SW 104th through 217th Streets and has its main outflow to Biscayne Bay at SW 173rd Street.
After significant study, it was found that the outflow of the C-100 canal was upsetting the natural balance of Biscayne Bay, due to high-volume, rushing water exiting at one concentrated point. In essence, man had destroyed the naturally occurring wetland that was once the Cutler Glade.
In the Spring of 2010, the South Florida Water Management District broke ground on the Deering Estate Flow-Way. The intent was to replenish the wetland area that once surrounded the Deering Estate. The estimated $4.2M project was officially completed in March 2012 and ended up costing $4.3M. The project was financed 50/50 with Federal and State funds.
Located on the west side of Old Cutler Road at approximately SW 160th Street, the manufactured wetland can hold approximately 820,000 gallons of water and gently distribute it to the wetland preserve on the east side of Old Cutler Road.
The project restores much of what Mother Nature had originally intended for the area, allowing rainwater to more gently enter Biscayne Bay after passing through natural earth and vegetation filtration, mimicking historic conditions.
Jorge A. Jaramillo, Principal Engineer for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), explained, “Much like nature itself, the mechanics of the waterway system are simple, but effective.” Dig a very large, shallow hole and allow water to seek its own level. At the southwest corner of the project connect the hole to the C-100A canal extension. Water flows in and fills the man-made hole. Then, based on water levels in the canal system and conditions in the wetland preserve, the pump house can move water to the natural wetland and rehydrate as needed. Nature then delicately trickles water out to Biscayne Bay in a distributed manner.
Three automated and remotely monitored pumps, controlled by the SFWMD in West Palm Beach, can distribute an impressive 65 million gallons of water per day into the Deering Estate wetland, via the Cutler Creek drain (re-established on the east side of Old Cutler Road as part of the overall project).
The result is lower pressure when they do release from the canal gate and a much happier ecosystem. We see the effects of this nearly immediately because improved salinity distribution allows nature to re-establish productive wildlife habitat, including nursery habitat for shrimp, shellfish and fish. The project also provides improved recreational opportunities in Biscayne Bay and adjacent wetlands.
Beyond the ecological benefits for the area, the project also incorporates education opportunity. Soon, the Deering Estate will steward site visits where people can see the wetland in action and learn the history of the land. The County also will beautify the area by removing the chain-link fence that now surrounds the flow-way and put in a more appropriate natural barrier.