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NO-FLOOD ZONE: What it takes to help keep the Orange River out of your home

The South Florida Water Management District showed Fox 4's Ft Myers Shores Community Correspondent Austin Schargorodski what it takes to reduce the risk of flooding along local waterways.
Posted at 7:03 PM, Apr 10, 2024

BUCKINGHAM, Fla. — There's a lot of work that goes into keeping waterways like the Orange River from flooding your yard or home.

I'm Fox 4's Austin Schargorodski. And if you live in Ft Myers Shores, I'm your Community Correspondent. I met Phil Flood with the South Florida Water Management District on another story in that area — and yes, I noticed his last name, too, and its uncanny resemblance to his profession... or rather, what he works every day to prevent!

On Tuesday, when Flood invited to show me what the agency does to try to keep Florida's wild waterways "on the straight and narrow" and out of your backyards, I jumped at the chance to tag along.

phil flood orange river south florida water management district
Phil Flood of the South Florida Water Management District showed Fox 4 how contractors cleared waterways like the Orange River of downed trees and invasive vegetation.

"Following the last big hurricane that we had, we were out on seven different creeks and rivers that had an enormous amount of material down from the storm that were directly blocking the flows," Flood told me. "Here in the Orange River, we spent $1.8 million dollars just to remove what fell in there.”

Under Flood's direction, contractors floated down the river, and from the water, they removed trees and plant debris and stacked it on a barge. Eventually, a wood chipper was whirring on the riverbank, grinding problem trees down to mulch which is shared with property owners who let the water management district use their land.

orange river lee county south florida water management district contractors
On April 10, 2024, Contractors with the South Florida Water Management District floated down the Orange River searching for downed trees and overgrown vegetation and debris. The material is removed to help reduce the risk of flooding once the rainy season resumes.

“There’s a lot of invasive species and exotics that have taken over the riverbanks here, and we’ve found that they’re one of the first things to fall in storms,” Flood explained.

After the trees were ground down, Flood said they sprayed the stumps with herbicide. “You've seen some instances where you cut a tree down and two or three more pop up at the root. Well, that's what this prevents," Flood noted.

The work of extracting downed trees and debris in the water demands specialized equipment capable of navigating the riverbed. Some of that debris came from past storms and hurricanes.

"Here in the Orange River, we spent $1.8 million dollars just to remove what fell in there.”

Phil Flood, South Florida Water Management District

“Another storm would bring some more material and embed it on top of this material here, and water could back up upstream and potentially flood adjacent properties and even homes," Flood explained.

Flood's team looks after a total of thirteen primary rivers and creeks that drain urban areas across Lee County.

And now we know who helps keep some of our local waterways clear and flowing free.