During the 1960's and early 1970's the Gulf American Corporation, now the
GAC Corporation (GAC), subdivided about 173 square miles of undeveloped land in
Collier County and sold it as lots in "Golden Gate Estates" (GGE). Phase 1,
Golden Gate Estates Redevelopment Study, Collier Ct., Fla., 1 [herein-
after referred to as the Phase 1 Report]. Approximately 200 miles of
canals were excavated to drain the land and provide the fill necessary
to build hundreds of miles of roads. Id. at T-109. Subdivision of the
land and changes in its zoning were approved by the Collier County Board
S of County Commissioners. Id. at 1. Over 50,000 people, in many parts
of the world, were sold residential lots in the project. Id. However,
except for a relatively small portion of the northwest section where
several hundred homes exist, very few residences have been built.
Proposed Interim Modifications, Golden Gate Estates Canal System, 2, 15,
CH2M-Hill, November, 1978 [hereinafter referred to as Interim Action
In order to understand the environmental impacts that are occurring
in Golden Gate Estates it is first necessary to understand the ecological
characteristics of the area and its relationship to the surrounding
S region before it was disturbed.*
*The following discussion is drawn from several technical reports address-
ing the ecology of the Big Cypress Swamp in general and Golden Gate Estates
in particular. Phase 1 Report; Carter et al., Ecosystems Analysis of the
Big Cypress Swamp and Estuaries, EPA, Region IV (June 1973) [hereinafter
Prior to construction of canals and roads, the area was vegetated by low
pineland and cypress communities similar to those found in other parts
of the Big Cypress Swamp. Much of the area was regularly inundated by
several feet of water during the rainy season. The presence and flow
of water has been and continues to be the single most important factor
shaping the environmental characteristics of the area and its relation-
ship to the surrounding region.
Under redevelopment conditions, surface water was present for many
months each year. The wetter areas in the southern part of the project
were normally flooded to a depth of about two feet for five to seven
months of the year. The drier "Golden Gates Highlands" in the northwest
portion (See Figure 10 in Phase 1 Report, T-51) flooded to a maximum
depth of about 7 inches of water and remained wet for 3 to 4 months of
the year. Id., at T-i. This water protected vegetation from fire,
moderated temperatures and humidified the local atmosphere, thus allowing
a unique community of plants and animals to thrive. It also recharged
shallow and deep aquifers. (Phase 1 Report, T-52).
Much of the water moved slowly seaward through strands of cypress.
S -referred to as EPA Report ; Black, Crow and Eidsness, Inc., Hydrologic
Study of the GAC Canal Network, Collier County, Florida (October, 1974)
[hereinafter referred to as Hydrologic Study, GAC]; Master Plan for
Water Management District No. 6, Collier County, Florida, Black, Crow and
Eidsness, Inc. (February, 1974); Master Plan, Water Management District
No. 7, including the Cocohatchee and Gordon River Basins, Collier County,
Florida, Black, Crow and Eidsness, Inc. (March, 1975); Robert Eisenbud,
An Examination of the Law Relating to the Water Rights of the Everglades
National Park: A Case Study in Legal Problems of the Coastal Zone,
University of Miami Sea Grant Program, Technical Bulletin No. 21, 1-71
(1971); Water Cycles, Water Resources Planning and Urban Development at
Rookery Bay, Florida A Program for Protection of Water Systems and
Estuarine Resources, John Clark and the Conservation Foundation (July
1974); The South Florida Study, Florida Division of State Planning
At the edge of land it created an extremely productive estuary by dilu-
ting seawater and contributing nutrients to the saltmarsh and mangrove
communities. Many species of marine life must live in brackish waters
during one or more stages of their life cycle. Proper salinities were
maintained by the slow, steady infusion of freshwater from the inland
cypress swamps of Golden Gate Estates. Rapid fluctuations in salinity
were prevented by the slowly draining head of fresh water.
Harmful Impacts of the Canals
Construction of the Golden Gate Estates canal system has had
devastating impacts on the environment described above. See generally,
Phase 1 Report; EPA Report. Surface and shallow groundwaters are
rapidly collected, channelled and transported from the interior swamps
directly to the open waters of the estuary. Hydrologic Study, GAC, 3-1.
The duration of flooding has been reduced and, most importantly, the
area is dried out much more thoroughly during the dry season. Further-
more, the drying effect extends beyond the area of Golden Gate Estates.
Water is drawn from the Corkscrew Swamp and farmlands to the north and
from the Fahkahatchee Strand. EPA Report, 1-3; Phase 1 Report, T-46,
Plant and animal communities, both within and beyond the borders of
Golden Gate Estates have been adversely affected by the drying. Exten-
sive farmlands to the north have been excessively drained. Phase 1 Report
at T-147. Their agricultural use has become prohibitively expensive and
difficult because of lowered groundwater and thousands of acres have been
abandoned for that reason. Owners of these lands, farmers and the entire
Region are consequently suffering an economic loss. Phase 1 Report, T-V
at 147. Excessive drainage is also dramatically increasing the incidence
of destructive fires, both within GGE and beyond its borders. Phase 1
Report, 3, T-iv, T-79, T-83, T-110.
By decreasing the recharge of groundwaters, the canals are seriously
threatening the adequacy of regional water supplies. Phase 1 Report at
ii, iii. All potable water in the region is drawn from groundwater. The
possibility of salt water intrusion has also been increased, threatening
plants, animals and water supplies. Phase 1 Report Id. at iii.
Perhaps the injury of greatest economic importance has been the
degradation of the estuaries into which the canals discharge. Hydrologic
Study, GAC, 6-4; Phase 1 Report, T-145, 146; EPA Report, 11-1 to 4.
The flow of nutrients to saltmarsh and mangrove communities has been
"short circuited" by the canals. Great pulses of freshwater are discharged
after rainy periods. There is little flow during dry periods. Rapid
fluctuations in salinity--from very salty to very fresh and back again--
occur to the detriment of such marine life as snook, spotted sea trout,
shrimp and oysters, which are the basis for major local seafood industries.
Ironically, despite the enormous harmful impacts of the canals, they
provide inadequate drainage to allow development of the area.
[T]he 10 year storm would cause flooding of up to
2 feet from the City of Golden Gate eastward to
Everglades Boulevard and thence north to within 4
miles of the northern perimeter of Golden Gate
Estates (Black, Crow and Eidsness, 1974).
Similarly, the 10 year storm would result in :e
floods to 2 feet from the extreme south end as
far north as Stewart Boulevard, and north from
S.R. 84 for a distance of approximately 9 miles.
(Phase 1 Report at T-152).
Water depths of 7 inches in the lower areas of the "Highlands" and
24 inches in the southern areas are still reached briefly during heavy
rain periods and flooding, with decreasing water levels, may persist
for two and three months, respectively. Id. at T-i, ii.
Interim Action Program
The proposed Interim Action Program is designed to reduce the harm-
ful impacts of the canal system until a permanent solution can be
developed and implemented. Interim Action Program 1-2. It has two main
features. First, a natural drainage divide would be restored by the in-
stallation of earth plugs to prevent waters on the eastern side of the
project, the Fahka Union canal drainage area, from draining out the
S western side through the Golden Gate Canal into Naples Bay. Id. at 5.
Second, several earth plugs would be installed and existing weirs would
be raised in the Fahka Union canal drainage area to retain water for
S longer periods of time and divert some of this water into the Fahkahatchee
S Strand. There are alternative heights to which the weirs may be raised.
The first alternative is to raise them to an intermediate height of two
feet. Id. at 8. The second alternative is to raise them to ground
S level. Id. at 12.
Implementation of the intermediate level alternative would decrease
yearly runoff through the Fahka Union canal by approximately 50% and
would decrease the rate of peak discharge by 35%. Id. at 15. It would
raise groundwater levels by 1 to 2 feet. Id. Peak wet season flood
levels would not be increased, but their duration would be extended from
a few weeks to one month longer. Id. at 16.
Implementation of the ground level alternative would virtually
eliminate the discharge of runoff through the Fahka Union canal. Id. at
15. Ground water levels would be raised 2 to 4 feet. Id. The duration
I I 1 111 -, ---
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of flooding would be increased an additional few weeks and flood peaks
would be increased by up to 1 or 2 feet, thus increasing the incidence
of flooding in some areas. Id. at 16.