Water Management at Disney World: A Behind the Scenes Look

The following blog post was written by Audubon Everglades Policy Manager Jane Graham:

This week, Audubon Florida board member Jud Laird and I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at water management and natural lands management around Disney World, thanks to Bill Warren, Eddie Snell, Mike Crikis, and Kate Kolbo of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The first surprise I encountered on the tour was the extensive natural areas throughout the Disney property that host a wonderland of bird life and other wildlife. The Reedy Creek watershed includes several tributaries that flow into Kissimmee River, including Cypress Creek, Bonnet Creek, Reedy Creek. There is a greenway throughout the property, with nearly 8000 acres in permanent conservation. On our behind the scenes tour, we saw otters and alligators, and a plethora of birds, including Wood Storks and Black Vultures, Great Blue Herons, and Ibis. Mike showed us that upwards of 124 bird species have been catalogued on the property. Here’s a picture of an alligator lounging around.

There were also improvements on the property that may seem mundane and small, but made a difference for water quality. Special stormwater drains that resembled upside-down Mayan pyramids (like Mexico in EPCOT) captured pollutants, gasoline, sediments and decaying leaves from the road to prevent it flowing into the drain and harming natural areas. We learned that all the grass throughout Disney world is watered with highly treated reclaimed water, and if fertilizer is used (with the exception of the baseball field), it does not contain phosphorus. These are examples of urban “best management practices” that RCID uses to help improve water quality and help prevent pollutants from flowing into the Kissimmee River and south into the Greater Everglades.

RCID monitors water quality throughout the property. At the RCID environmental lab, there werenstruments that could measure the amount of certain pollutants (such as from pesticides and herbicides) to a part per trillionth. There were also instruments that detected phosphorus and nitrogen to the part per billion. The bulbs (or sensors) in this photo act as “eyes” to detect the presence of nitrogen in trace amounts in water samples.  

It was interesting to see all the work it takes to manage water throughout Disney World. RCID’s urban stormwater management is a good model for other municipalities throughout Florida- especially those in the Northern Everglades watershed as we embark on reducing the amount of phosphorus through the region in  the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan.



How you can help, right now