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FGCU using its campus to study floodwaters and how to protect against them

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Matthew Seaver

Southwest Florida sees its fair share of flooding, whether it is during a hurricane or just a regular summer storm, but those rising waters also tell a story.

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) uses its own campus as a science experiment to benefit our area and learn more about what those floodwaters can teach us.

FGCU students and professors measure the water that flows into ponds to protect the Southwest Florida community better.

Dr. Don Duke, an environmental studies professor at The Water School at FGCU, said, “the work that we’re doing is, on the surface of it, really simple. We’re just watching to see how the ponds rise and fall over time.”

FGCU environmental science graduate student, Madison Mullen, said, “you can comment if it looks like it’s about to rain or if it’s super sunny or anything like that.”

They also collect data from sensors. What they find tells them how these ponds respond after big storms, and where that water goes.

“Primarily, what we’re doing is proving that these ponds don’t do flood control,” said Duke.

Even though it looks like the ponds can hold lots of water, Duke said they’re not meant to be good at flood control in the first place. “For those of us living in South Florida who don’t know all the sorts of things, expect those ponds are what do our flood control. They do not. They are a good way for us to measure what’s happening after a major storm.”

It turns out the unsung heroes for flood control on FGCU’s campus are the large wooded areas serving as wetlands.

Something these researchers believe could help future developers.

“I grew up in Florida, just like an hour and a half away from here. So all of this is like, really personal, in a sense. I’m used to seeing a lot of flooding in my area, and it’s no different in Fort Myers,” said Mullen.

While this study can benefit Southwest Florida, it can also give FGCU students firsthand experience in environmental careers.

The stormwater drain system for FGCU is separate from Lee County, and it is the university’s responsibility to maintain it.