Watershed Studies

Lee County and Volusia County, Florida

KECE has conducted numerous watershed and mega-watershed studies for a variety of purposes. In the late 1980’s the firm worked with David Godschalk to produce the Lee County Coastal Study to be used in amending the Coastal Management Element of their Comprehensive Plan. The first work of its kind in the state of Florida and possibly the nation it was produced, reviewed and adopted by County and State officials immediately following of the State Comprehensive Planning and Land Development Regulation Act. The Coastal Management Element is one of the critical parts of the overall Comprehensive Plan that each municipality and the County in Florida must prepare in accordance with State legislation. The purpose of the Element is to “plan for and where appropriate, restrict development activities where such activities would damage or destroy coastal resources, and protect human life and limit public expenditures in areas that are subject to destruction by natural disaster.

Organized by watersheds the natural and ecological resources were evaluated, mapped and statistically inventoried. The master water shed plan and subsequent recommendations for protection and conservation made in the final report was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. The stated Goal developed by the firm for managing and protecting the 220,148 acre study area was “to manage the coastal wetland and upland ecosystems so as to enhance and maintain native habitats, floral and faunal species diversity, water quality and natural surface water characteristics. The study enumerated for the first time the resources of the area, diversity of habitats, problems with habitat destruction and diminishing water quality and the related impacts on commerce such as a significant decline in commercial fish landings.

Following the completion of the Lee County study KECE undertook a similar watershed analysis working with Sedway Cooke and Associates to amend the Coastal element of the Volusia County Comprehensive Plan. Volusia County the coastal municipalities cooperated in the preparation of this Element as early on, the County and coastal communities recognized that coastal issues and resources should be coordinated with an ecosystems approach. Environmental systems such as estuaries, watershed, or wildlife habitat, and man-made systems like traffic circulation or drainage structures, do not start or stop at political boundaries.

Although the Coastal Management Element was included in the Volusia County’s Comprehensive Plan, the inventory, analysis and the goals, objectives and policies were structured to be broad based so that each community was able to choose to adopt all or part of the Element into their individual Comprehensive Plans. Approximately 450.5 square miles of the County were included within this study area. It ranges from between four and 16 miles wide to approximately 50 miles long, and is bounded to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, west by the watershed boundary as determined by the U.S.G.S. Hydrologic Unit Map of Florida, and to the north by Flagler County and to the south by Brevard County.

Like Lee County, the Volusia County government adopted this award-winning plan and still continues to implement its recommendations twenty years later. We found that the coastal wetlands remained generally intact. However, the interface of remaining native uplands with these shoreline areas of salt marsh and mangrove had all but disappeared throughout most of the coastal zone. Upland habitats, such as coastal scrub, typically have a high proportion of species not found elsewhere. Such areas are considered valuable for maintaining biological diversity. Without the immediate institution of a balanced resource management plan, the future Volusia County coastal zone would have been completely converted to urbanized lands with a fringe of saltmarsh and mangroves. The functioning native lands, with their diversity and high endemism would have rapidly disappeared.

There have been many positive outcomes from the Volusia County study, one of which is a very popular local program that acquires the important native upland and wetland habitats and the corridors of land that are necessary to connect them.