Rene Price, Florida International University – Salt Water Intrusion in the Everglades

Fight fire with fire…and water with water?

Rene Price, professor of earth and environment at Florida International University, explores how to stop salt water intrusion in the Everglades with more water.

Dr. Price’s research interests include the general areas of hydrogeology, ecohydrology and low-temperature aqueous geochemistry in carbonate terrains. More specifically, her research involves using chemical tracers, including the isotopes of oxygen, hydrogen, and major ions to identify water sources, groundwater flow paths and groundwater-surface water interactions. In addition, she has investigated water-rock interactions associated with seawater intrusion into coastal carbonate aquifers. Her research has been conducted extensively in South Florida through the National Science Foundation’s Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program, as well as in the Yucatan of Mexico and Mallorca, Spain.

Salt Water Intrusion in the Everglades

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The Florida Everglades needs more fresh water to fight sea level rise.

That’s because more parts of the Everglades are susceptible to salt water intrusion.

My colleagues and I found sea levels rose 2.2 centimeters every year from 2011 to 2015.

Something that surprised us as researchers was a notable increase of 10 centimeters in the dry season months when sea level is typically at its lowest.

The result is that areas that were once flooded by sea water 70 percent of the year are now flooded by sea water 90 percent of the year.

Many factors caused the drastic increases in sea level. Melting ice sheets, a strong La Nina season, and slow ocean currents allowed sea water to pile up along South Florida’s coastlines.

There are things we can do to save freshwater in the Everglades.

In 2000, Congress created the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan to bring back water flow to the tropical wetland.

It recommends resource managers release more fresh water into the Everglades.  

Most of that is added during the wet season. This helps fight salt water intrusion when sea levels are highest.

But, salt water can still move inland in the dry season when fresh water isn’t being released.

The original Everglades restoration plan did not take sea level rise into consideration, but to combat sea level rise in the Everglades, we need to fight water with water.

Even a small amount of fresh water released at the right time of year can make a big difference and fresh water levels in the Everglades need to be maintained higher than sea level. 

Because of this, we recommend resource managers deliver additional fresh water to the Everglades throughout the entire year, not just in the wet season.

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