South central Florida is one region of the United States that faces major challenges in protecting water quality and wetland ecosystems in the face of encroaching development and significant agricultural production.  In the watersheds flowing into Lake Okeechobee, the estuaries, and the Everglades, about 1 million head of cattle are supported by approximately 3 million acres.  Land use changes within these watersheds have dramatically changed habitat characteristics and patterns of nutrient flow resulting in increasing nutrient loads into Lake Okeechobee, Estuaries, and Everglades.  Agencies have targeted beef cattle ranches in the Lake Okeechobee watershed to achieve a portion of the desired nutrient load reductions.  Although phosphorus concentrations associated with beef cow-calf ranches are low in comparison with dairy farms and other more intensive agricultural operations, these ranches occupy 51% of the Okeechobee watershed, making them a large cumulative contributor to P loads into the lake.  The cattle ranching community has identified a series of best management practices for water quality improvements, including modified fencing, drainage, feed/water locations, and fertilization regimes, that are expected to reduce nutrient runoff.  MAERC has been instrumental in testing the effectiveness of some of these BMPs (stocking density and water retention) and was critical to the development of the Florida Ranchlands Environmental Services Project.


As a full scale working cattle ranch located in the Northern Everglades ecosystem, MAERC lies in a pivotal location for engaging in the critical issues of water supply and management, conservation of biodiversity and restoration.  At MAERC we have implemented extensive monitoring of surface water and groundwater levels and nutrient concentrations.  Many of these projects are on-going long-term commitments.  Our goal is to conduct monitoring that is responsive to the public policy needs of this region, including water supply and water quality and excess nutrients in sensitive wetland ecosystems. Data is available upon request and a portion is available on our website.

Summary of MAERC Hydrological data. See map for more details.





MAERC Groundwater

2000 (4), 2007-Ongoing

32 wells.

Flow/nutrient loads

1998–2003: 16 sites
200 –2006 :  8/16 sites 2007-2011 five basins
1 basin-Ongoing

Flow/nutrient loads 16 expt pastures.
Flow/nutrient loads 8  expt winter pastures.
Flow/nutrient loads 5 basins.
Flow/nutrient loads basin 35.

Payment for Environmental Services
 - water retention P reduction


FRESP/ NEPES.   MAERC, 23off site monitoring locations; water level, rainfall, water quality.

On ranch ditches and Harney Pond Canal


Monthly data collection: Total P; Nitrate; Total N;NH4; DO; pH; conductivity.


LTAR data streams


LTAR Hydrologic features

Caption:  MAERC has over 600 seasonal wetlands and ~500 miles of ditches and canals.  Extensive effort has been focused on hydrological modeling in several delineated watersheds to analyze how management scenarios affect quantity and quality of surface water runoff.