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Five Big 2021 Legislative Priorities

Align with Restoration of

The Great Florida Riverway

SJR_Badge_Logo-Small

Five Big 2021 Legislative Priorities

Align with Restoration of

The Great Florida Riverway

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Florida’s budget that Governor Ron DeSantis signed on June 2 included the largest environmental budget in the state’s history, due in part to Coronavirus relief funding (FDEP press release). Five environmental bright spots in the 2021 Florida legislative session include passage of bills or budget items for Florida Wildlife Corridor land acquisition, sea level resiliency and flooding avoidance, water resource conservation, springs protection and manatee habitat. One unfunded Florida project, the restoration of the Ocklawaha River, supports each of these significant priorities. The Ocklawaha is the heart of The Great Florida Riverway, a 217-mile waterway extending from Lake Apopka near Orlando to the lower St. Johns River ending in Jacksonville.

Ironically, however, none of this year’s environmental budget appropriations expressly directed funding to support the creation of a free-flowing Ocklawaha River, reconnecting Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers. It’s not too late. Supported by a coalition of sixty conservation, recreation, faith-based and business organizations, the project provides Florida taxpayers a ten-year return on investment of 7.6% or a $1.76 return for every dollar invested and an unprecedented environmental benefit.

Leadership of the Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition for Everyone is hopeful that Governor DeSantis and the legislature will give Northeast Florida and this nationally significant project its due during 2022. The restoration project is estimated to cost $26 million without recreational improvements (FDEP Greenway Plan 2018).

“It’s encouraging that five Florida legislative priorities align with Ocklawaha River restoration goals. Now it is time to invest in this project, essential to the environment and economy of central and northeast Florida.”

Margaret H. Spontak, Chair
Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition for Everyone

1.Water Resources - $445 million*

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Would you want to take your children swimming in this? Photo by John Moran.
Appropriations Bill: Invests $445 million in general water quality improvement projects such as stormwater treatment, wastewater plant upgrades and septic tank conversions to help achieve Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). It also funds alternative water supply projects supporting Florida’s growing need for water supply through conservation and reuse projects ($40 million).

*Does not include $360 million in specific Everglades funding and $644 million in related federal stimulus funding.

Ocklawaha Restoration Connection: Restoration of a free-flowing river enhances water quality of the Ocklawaha by removing the stagnant Rodman pool that is prone to algae blooms, and of the Lower St. Johns River by augmenting low flows, increasing dissolved oxygen and providing a more balanced nutrient supply.

Breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam generates 156-276 million gallons per day of additional natural water flow for the Lower Ocklawaha River and St. Johns River Estuary by uncovering 20 freshwater springs drowned by the waters behind the dam. It also eliminates substantial evaporation of valuable water resources from the reservoir.

2. Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resiliency - $500 million*

SB 1954: Funds Resiliency Grants to address statewide flooding and sea level rise resiliency.
Rodman 9.12.17 flood Irma 1
Breaching the Rodman Dam eliminates potential for downstream and upstream flooding during major storm events. Photo by Karen Chadwick.
Ocklawaha Restoration Connection:

Flood Reduction: Restoring the Ocklawaha by breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam eliminates the potential for emergency dam failure that could inundate over 500 properties and cause $57 million in property damages downstream of the dam in Welaka. It restores much of the natural upstream floodplain, preventing the waters of the dam from backing up during a major storm event.

Resiliency: By restoring the natural timing and increasing the freshwater flow into the St. Johns River from the Ocklawaha River, the salinity balance improves, lost submerged aquatic vegetation recovers and habitat for fish and other aquatic species is enhanced. These improved freshwater flows reduce the impacts of saltwater intrusion near Jacksonville and benefit recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish resources.

*Does not include $600 million in federal resiliency and coastal mapping funds.

3. Florida Wildlife Corridor - $300 million

SB 976: The Florida Wildlife Corridor program includes $300 million to conserve lands in the designated Florida Wildlife Corridor preventing fragmentation of habitat for panthers and other species.

Ocklawaha Restoration Connection: Reconnecting the riverway and restoring 7500 acres of forested wetlands provides a vital link in the portion of the Florida Wildlife Corridor called the Ocala to Osceola Wildlife Corridor (O2O). Funding from this bill could purchase high-ranking parcels on the Florida Forever list in the Ocklawaha Basin to leverage restoration of critical aquatic migratory paths for manatees and historic fish, as well as a land connection for panthers, bears and other wildlife.
Map
The defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal, Rodman Dam and Reservoir block aquatic and land-based wildlife from their migratory routes.

4. Springs Restoration - $75 million

Appropriations Bill: Allocated $75 million toward traditional springs protection and restoration projects. Projects to be focused on wastewater plant upgrades and septic tank conversions.

Ocklawaha Restoration Connection: Twenty “Lost Springs” of the Ocklawaha reemerge by eliminating the Rodman pool that inundates the springs, suppresses flow, and limits public access. Freeing these twenty springs and respective spring runs comprise the most significant springs restoration project currently available. Restoration of the Silver Springs ecosystem can only be accomplished by breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam, allowing migratory fish and other wildlife to travel from the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Johns River.
Cannon-Spring
Every three to four years, some of the Ocklawaha “lost springs” are uncovered during Ocklawaha drawdown. This is beautiful Cannon Springs. Photo by Joseph Cruz

5. Manatee Habitat - $8 million

Manatee May and her calf at Blue Spring by Cora Berchem
The Ocklawaha and Silver Rivers and Silver Springs would provide essential habitat for manatees with the Rodman Dam breached. Photo by Cora Berchem

Appropriations Bill: Allocated $8 million in general revenue to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help the state’s threatened manatees. Funding goes toward restoring “manatee access to springs and provides habitat restoration in manatee concentrated areas.”

Ocklawaha Restoration Connection: With 761 manatee deaths in Florida already this year, far surpassing total deaths in 2020, Florida’s iconic manatee population is under significant threat. A free-flowing Ocklawaha River reconnected to Silver Springs provides warm water winter habitat for hundreds of manatees. Several of the Ocklawaha “Lost Springs” and world-famous Silver Springs and Silver River provide ideal natural habitat with plentiful food.

To learn more, go to GreatFloridaRiverway.com and view our documentary and leader viewbook – Voices of the Rivers.
Free The Ocklawaha Coalition. For a list of our members click here .
To show your support click here
Free the Ocklawaha
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For more information go to Freetheocklawaha.com
To schedule a virtual briefing, email MSpontak@FreetheOcklawaha.com