Much of the surface water that flows into the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (FPNWR) probably exits southward through Fakahatchee Strand as it did prior to development, because culverts and bridges constructed along I-75 allow overland flow to continue southward within the strand. During the dry season and periods of low water levels, however, much of the flow is diverted westward by the I-75 Canal into Merritt Canal at the southwestern corner of the FPNWR. Substantial drainage of groundwater from the FPNWR into the I-75 Canal is indicated by (1) greater surface-water outflows than inflows in the FPNWR, (2) flows that increase to the west along the I-75 Canal, and (3) correlation of rapid groundwater-level declines at sites close to the I-75 Canal with rapid declines in canal surface-water levels due to operation of a control structure in the Merritt Canal. This drainage of groundwater probably occurs through permeable limestone exposed in the I-75 Canal bank below a cap rock layer.
Compared to predevelopment conditions, the time currently required to drain ponded water in some areas of the refuge should be less because of accelerated groundwater discharge into the I-75 Canal caused by the lowering of water levels in the canal during the peak of the wet season extending into the early dry season. This drainage probably reduces the duration of the hydroperiod in these wetlands from the wet season into the dry season, possibly reducing or limiting the extent or vitality of wildlife and plant community habitats.