The Picayune Strand Restoration Project, the first Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) to begin construction, is being conducted in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District. This project involves the restoration of natural water flow across 85 square miles in western Collier County that were drained in the early 1960s in anticipation of extensive residential development. This drainage dramatically altered the natural landscape, changing a healthy wetland ecosystem into a distressed environment.
The restoration involves plugging 48 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of crumbling roads, and constructing three major pump stations, all of which will restore more than 55,000 acres of natural habitat. Wetlands will be restored in Picayune Strand (Southern Golden Gate Estates) and in adjacent public lands — including the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and Collier Seminole State Park — by reducing over-drainage, while restoring a natural and beneficial sheetflow of water to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. When completed, the project will restore historic water flows that benefit coastal estuaries by reducing large salinity fluctuations due to freshwater flowing from the Faka-Union Canal into the estuaries; recharge the aquifer; and protect the water supply, while maintaining current levels of flood protection. Protection levees are planned for adjacent private properties impacted by the project along with maintenance of flood protection for the Northern Golden Gate Estates residential area.
Ecological benefits are already being seen at Picayune Strand as a result of the restoration work done to date. Native plants and animals are returning to the area, including the wood stork and the endangered Florida panther. By restoring the hydrology in the area, the completed project also directly benefits the southern Gulf Coast estuaries, improving juvenile fish habitats and increasing fish and bird populations, as well as providing recreational opportunities in the area.