Three Rivers, Fifty Springs - One Solution

Ocklawaha, Silver, St. Johns Rivers and Silver Springs
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TheNaturalOcklawaha-RiverPhotobyJulieO'Brien
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Most Floridians know about world famous Florida Silver Springs, one of the largest artesian springs in the world, one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions and now a state park. And, you probably know about the St. Johns River, an American Heritage River, running 310 miles north from Indian River County to Duval County. What you may not know about is the 217-mile system originating in the Green Swamp, emerging in Lake Apopka and running north to the Atlantic Ocean connecting the Ocklawaha River including the Harris Chain of Lakes, Silver Springs, and the St. Johns River. This Great Florida Riverway is one of Florida’s most significant water resources. Restoration of this state asset depends on breaching the 52-year-old Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam.
Retired Chief Scientist for St. Johns River Water Management Dr. Ed Lowe shared that, “Full significance of a free-flowing Ocklawaha can only be fully appreciated from a regional perspective. Breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick dam would reunite four ecosystems: Silver Springs, the Ocklawaha River, the Lower St. Johns River, and the coastal Atlantic Ocean of the southeastern United States. What was once a free connection between these systems supported a rich diversity of economically important fish and shellfish, such as those for American Eel, Striped Bass, and American Shad, not to mention the oyster, crab and shrimp of the lower basin. The dam severed that vital connection. The construction of the dam initiated and then sustained the regional decline in fisheries and shellfish populations.”

A River of Springs

One of 20 lost springs, Cannon Springs, uncovered during drawdown.
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One might call this system the river of springs starting with Apopka Spring in Lake Apopka, plus a half-dozen smaller springs feeding the Upper Ocklawaha River in the Harris Chain of Lakes, then 25 plus springs comprising Silver Springs, and 20 historic springs along the Ocklawaha that are covered by the weight of the added water from the Rodman/ Kirkpatrick Dam (B., Knight and H. Vick, Florida Silver Springs Conservation Plan, 2018). If this aging dam was breached, 14 miles southwest of Palatka, the combined water flow of those lost springs and reduced water evaporation saved by reduction of the reservoir would provide an additional estimated 150 million gallons per day of natural water flow to sustain the Lower St. Johns 100-mile estuary. The free-flowing river and springs would also provide essential winter habitat for 100s of manatees.

A Dam Past Its Time

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For over 50 years, the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam built near Palatka as part of the halted Cross Florida Barge Canal, has wreaked havoc on Silver Springs, the Ocklawaha, and the St. Johns. Many of those living near the Dam, have great pride in the artificial bass fishing pool created by this relic structure. But as predicted by scientists, the diversity and quantity of fish has declined along with the recreation area’s users (UF IFAS, 2017).

Safety is also a concern. In recent years, two dams in Michigan and built with similar materials, have failed (Washington Post, May 22, 2020). It does not make sense economically or environmentally to put millions of dollars into a dam that never served its intended purpose. Numerous federal, state, and regional agencies and over thirty conservation organizations supported the consensus plan developed in 2001 by the United State Forest Service to breach the dam on one side, removing 2,000 feet of earthen berm, with limited removal and/or alteration of structures and topography (USFS EIS, March 2001). It only lacks legislative funding approval.

It’s time to develop a new, united plan for this river that benefits everyone.To learn more about the economic and environmental benefits go to
https://www.freetheocklawaha.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Green-Gold-Report.pdf

Six Reasons this Reservoir is Not a Good Water Supply Source

The Rodman/Kirkpatrick Pool near Palatka, Florida has been considered as an alternative water supply (AWS). Several older studies and plans evaluated the pool as a source. More recent studies have refuted the benefits of using the reservoir as a source of water supply because:
  1. There are 150 million gallons a day of additional more water available from a free-flowing Ocklawaha River than the reservoir.
  2. It is relatively shallow with little water storage to address seasonal needs.
  3. Treatment of surface water is two to four times more expensive than from the Floridan Aquifer.
  4. Further reduction of downstream flows in the St. Johns River would result in increased salinity and fish and wildlife impacts.
  5. Water pumping, piping, and transport would be too costly.
  6. It would negatively affect other industries tied to the Blue Economy.
For sources and more details click below.

The Rodman Reservoir: An Unreliable Recreation Resource

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From October to March, the Ocklawaha River and the Rodman Reservoir were teeming with anglers in boats and along the banks. The river drawdown, held every 3-4 years and mimicking in part what a restored Ocklawaha might look like, brings the water levels down to more natural levels and creates the ideal fishing environment. During drawdown, visitation was almost double the average for the same period during the previous two years. Life was good for the many fishing and sightseeing guides, canoe outfitters, restaurants, and lodging facilities.

But once the water levels came back up and warmer weather hit, the plague of the invasive aquatic weeds returned, blocking two of the most popular boat ramps, obstructing boat traffic and requiring frequent herbicide treatments to try to open things up. Anglers are regularly seen driving from ramp to ramp to try to find a way to put in for a day of fishing. Restoring the Ocklawaha would create a swifter moving and cooler river prone to less invasive aquatic weed buildup, reduce threats of harmful blue green algae blooms and lessen herbicide spraying.

Southeastern Group Ranks Ocklawaha Restoration Second

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A new assessment tool quantifying the ecological benefits of dam removal has been developed by the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP). Breaching the Rodman Dam on the Ocklawaha River was ranked second in Florida based on the amount of habitat to be gained and the condition of the watershed.

See the full article from the Florida Specifier here: https://www.freetheocklawaha.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Florida-Specifier-Article.pdf

Recent news from Jacksonville to Ocala…

Ocala Gazette: https://www.ocalagazette.com/seeking-common-ground-on-the-ocklawaha-river
Coastal Angler: https://coastalanglermag.com/e-magazine/northeast-florida
Ocala Star Banner: https://www.ocala.com/story/opinion/2020/09/12/editorial-breaching-dam-would-bring-ecotourism-benefits/3458310001
Gainesville Sun: https://www.gainesville.com/story/opinion/2020/09/12/editorial-breaching-dam-would-bring-ecotourism-benefits/3458310001
Ocala Gazette: https://www.ocalagazette.com/free-the-ocklawaha-and-well-all-benefit
Times Union: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/opinion/editorials/2020/09/03/editorial-environment-and-economy-can-improved-ocklawaha-river/3401743001
The Daytona Beach News-Journal: https://www.news-journalonline.com/story/
opinion/editorials/2020/09/17/breaching-rodman-dam-would-benefit-icklawaha-and-st-johns-rivers/5816442002/?fbclid=IwAR2r9Ok488vTXw_Wi1h3HIfZjq0TeggYzCnYjD_
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For more information go to Freetheocklawaha.com.
To schedule a virtual briefing, email MSpontak@FreetheOcklawaha.com
Free the Ocklawaha
Free The Ocklawaha Coalition. For a list of our members click here .

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