Durando Okeechobee Water Quality Improvement
The Kissimmee River Basin is a National Significant Landscape with high biological diversity. The site of this project lies within the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, and is one of the highest conservation priorities within the Refuge. The region is still rural, and the cattle ranches that dominate the area support a wide array of imperiled wildlife species and an enduring way of life.
The 12,000-acre Durando property is located in Okeechobee County, Florida. This is a family cattle ranch that contains the headwaters to the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park and drains into the Kissimmee River and is part of the Everglades Headwaters System. More than half of the site consists of current or former wetlands, making it a critical site for protecting and restoring water quality in the Northern Everglades Ecosystem.
The Durando Dispersed Water Management Project will store and clean water prior to entering the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, the Kissimmee River, and ultimately Lake Okeechobee. A drainage ditch that facilitated the immediate flow of water southwest to the Park has been filled in; this will rehydrate a historical wetland and slow the flow prior to the water entering the park. Florida Conservation Group is working with ranchers to implement these important water quality projects, with assistance from National Wildlife Refuge Association and in consultation with Audubon Florida.
The restoration and maintenance of this important wetland will improve water quality, quantity, and storage, and will connect exiting conservation lands and important wildlife corridors. Land stewardship on the ranch also supports dry prairie, a unique Florida natural community critical to several federal and state listed species including Florida grasshopper sparrow, caracara, gopher tortoise, Florida sandhill crane, and burrowing owl.
* Project restores natural hydrologic conditions to facilitate improved capture and infiltration of surface water and groundwater recharge