Coupling Lake, Estuarine, and Watershed Models for the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary

Aerial image of the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary.


US Army Corps of Engineers

Award Dates

October 2021 – September 2023


Project Lead
Kaplan, David (University of Florida)

Project Participants

Arias, Mauricio (University of South Florida)

Milbrandt, Eric (Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation)

Morrison, Elise (University of Florida)

Nelson, Natalie (North Carolina State University)

Olabarrieta, Maitane (University of Florida)

Phlips, Edward (University of Florida)

Schlatter, Karen (Coordinator, University of Florida)


Goals and Objective

UF Water Institute Faculty Fellow David Kaplan (UF Environmental Engineering Sciences Department) is the PI of a research project titled Coupling Lake, Estuarine, and Watershed Models for the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary (known as CLEW), which is funded by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Kaplan leads the CLEW team of researchers from the University of Florida, University of South Florida, North Carolina State University, and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Karen Schlatter, Research Coordinator of the UF Water Institute, is responsible for facilitating the project’s scientist-stakeholder workshops with the aim of generating actionable science.

Severe freshwater and marine harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Florida’s lakes, rivers and estuaries have resulted in tremendous environmental and economic damages in recent years. In southwest Florida, blooms are becoming more frequent, more damaging, and longer lasting, threatening the health and well-being of coastal communities. The goal of CLEW is to develop data- and model-driven guidance for Lake Okeechobee releases and Caloosahatchee River watershed management based on an improved understanding of the interactive effects of engineered discharges, watershed flow and nutrient deliveries, phytoplankton community dynamics, and river/near-shore hydrodynamics. The research can be used to inform water management policies and other solutions that will help control the algal blooms severely impacting Southwest Florida.

Anticipated Project Outcomes

Project-wide Deliverables:

  1. Generalizable/transferable coupled modeling approach to support optimization of Lake O discharges
  2. Improved understanding of linkages among engineered discharges and phytoplankton community dynamics
  3. Identification of bloom drivers and targets for water quality mitigation
  4. Three collaborative scientist-stakeholder workshops
  5. Annual/final project reports and presentations

Objective-specific deliverables:

  1. Coupled modeling system (code and documentation)
  2. Compiled database, dedicated data website/server, model calibration and verification reports
  3. Water quality, phytoplankton community, and nutrient source-tracking data and analysis
  4. Data analysis, empirical/statistical inference, and management guidance
  5. Scenario analysis to help guide modifications of Lake O operations decision-making that explicitly accounts for the phytoplankton and nutrient exports.