A stretch of the straightened and channelized Kissimmee River in central Florida
|Source||East Lake Tohopekaliga|
|- location||Osceola County, Florida|
|- coordinates||Coordinates: |
|Length||134 mi (216 km)|
|Basin||3,000 sq mi (7,770 km2)|
The Kissimmee River flows down the middle of central Florida into Lake Okeechobee.
The Kissimmee River arises in Osceola County as the outflow from East Lake Tohopekaliga, passing through Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Cypress, Lake Hatchineha and Lake Kissimmee. Below Lake Kissimmee, the river forms the boundary between Osceola County and Polk County, between Highlands County and Okeechobee County, and between Glades County and Okeechobee County before it flows into Lake Okeechobee. The river was originally 134 miles (216 km) in length, 103 miles (166 km) of which was between Lake Kissimmee and Lake Okeechobee. It forms the headwaters of the Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem.
The Kissimmee River watershed of 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) is adjacent to the Eastern Continental Divide, with triple watershed points at the Miami (north), Withlacoochee (northwest), and Peace (west) rivers' watersheds and the Lake Okeechobee watershed (southwest).[specify] The floodplain of the river supports a diverse community of waterfowl, wading birds, fish, and other wildlife.
The 1947 Atlantic hurricane season, which included the 1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane and the 1947 October Hurricane, produced very heavy rainfall and flooding over most of central and southern Florida. Florida requested federal assistance in controlling future floods, and in 1954 the United States Congress authorized the canalization of the Kissimmee River. From 1962 to 1970 the United States Army Corps of Engineers dredged the C-38 Canal down the Kissimmee valley, shortening the 103-mile (166 km) distance from Lake Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee to just 56 miles (90 km). It has since been realized that this project damaged the river, with the faster water flow leading to major environmental problems in the Kissimmee Valley and Lake Okeechobee. Efforts are currently underway to reverse the process and re-introduce the many oxbows in the river that slowed the water.
After the river channel was straightened, 40,000 acres (160 km2) of floodplain below Lake Kissimmee dried out, reducing the quality of waterfowl habitat by ninety percent, and the number of herons, egrets and wood storks by two-thirds. Catches of largemouth bass in the river were consistently worse after the channelization. While the Kissimmee was not a significant source of pollution for Lake Okeechobee before channelization, in the 1970s and later the river contributed about 25% of the nitrogen and 20% of the phosphorus flowing into the lake.
In protest to the canalization of the river and its resultant damage to the habitat, Florida author Piers Anthony based the plot of the tenth Xanth novel, Vale of the Vole, around the straightening of the "Kiss-Mee River," an obvious parody to "Kissimmee."
The river was mentioned in a lyric of Josh Turner's song "Alligator Stroll".
Efforts to restore the Kissimmee River to its original flow were approved by Congress in 1992, and began with modification to the headwater lakes in 1997. The United States Army Corps of Engineers had initially hoped to complete the project in 2015. In 2006, the South Florida Water Management District had acquired enough land along the river and in the upper chain of lakes to complete restoration. In all, 43 miles (69 km) of the Kissimmee River will be restored.
Already, wildlife is returning to the restored sections of river. When flooding began again, muck and smothering aquatic weeds were flushed out. Sandbars reemerged. Encroaching dry land trees began dying back. Once dormant plants began to reestablish themselves. The species included pink-tipped smartweed, horsetail, sedges, rushes, arrowhead, duck potato and pickerel weed. Flooding and continuous flow increased levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, creating near perfect conditions for aquatic invertebrates such as insects, mollusks, works, crayfish and freshwater shrimp. This, in turn, boosted fish populations and it led to a rise in bird and alligator populations. The entire food chain benefitted. This is one reason that the Kissimmee River restoration is considered to be the largest true ecosystem restoration project in the world, attracting ecologists from other states and countries.