The bay and its watershed form a complex web of ecosystems. Rimmed by mangrove wetlands, the natural bay is a shallow estuary of clear waters and sandy bay bottoms with seagrasses, corals and sponges. From the water’s edge, from causeways and bridges, and especially from boats, you can see a splendid array of fish, crabs, lobsters, turtles, birds and other wildlife, and subtropical plants ranging from mangroves to flowering trees.
The bay is part of a much larger regional ecosystem, which is directly impacted by what happens on the surrounding land and waters. South Florida’s water management and land use planning programs can have significant effects on freshwater flow to Biscayne Bay. Two important programs are the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which aims to restore natural systems, and the Lower East Coast Regional Water Supply Plan (LECRWSP), which plans to use various tools of Florida water law to provide water for human use while protecting natural ecosystems.
CERP will substantially restructure the regional water management system. In particular, CERP’s Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Element and South Miami-Dade County Reuse Plan will directly impact the bay. The LECRWSP will affect the issuance of long-term municipal well field permits. Recent LECRWSP evaluations predict that future urban and agricultural development and water withdrawals for urban drinking water will reduce the amount of water flowing to Biscayne Bay. Currently, no minimum or maximum flows or levels have been established for Biscayne Bay or the lower Biscayne Aquifer.
Both these planning efforts have created processes to use biological criteria in planning and monitoring, with provision for modifications based on monitoring and assessment of results. Stronger science-based input into ongoing regional restoration plans, land use planning and water management activities in the watershed is essential for preventing water degradation, improving bay management and ensuring that Biscayne Bay’s freshwater inflow needs are met.
The South Miami-Dade Watershed Plan, initiated by the Miami-Dade County Department of Planning and Zoning, will examine the impact of different land use patterns on the water quality of Biscayne Bay. This plan will identify lands that are essential for preserving the environmental, economic and community values of Biscayne National Park. The South Dade Watershed Plan will complement water management activities by developing a set of best management practices for all sources of water runoff into Biscayne National Park, and by assuring the compatibility of land uses and zoning decisions.
To conserve water and better manage the bay environment, the Biscayne Bay Partnership Initiative (BBPI) has recommended these actions:
* The Florida legislature should provide funding for the most urgent science need – using scientific criteria to determine the quantity, timing and distribution of freshwater flow needed to protect and restore Biscayne Bay and to reestablish a viable estuarine ecosystem in the near shore and coastal wetland zone of western Biscayne Bay.
* Ongoing regional restoration plans and land-based activities occurring in the watershed should be integrated and coordinated with existing management processes.
* A science committee, integrated with the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, should be formed to coordinate identification of scientific research, monitoring and restoration activities.
* The Florida legislature should provide long-term research funding to build scientific knowledge about the bay that can be used in regional water management planning to protect and restore the bay, as well as funding for communication with the public and its representatives.
* The Florida legislature should ensure that CERP explores alternatives to wastewater reuse to meet ecological goals and objectives of Biscayne Bay. The CERP should look for other potential sources of water to provide freshwater flows to central and southern Biscayne Bay before pursuing a reuse facility.