January 2022

Why Restoring the Ocklawaha River Can’t Wait

It is time to begin restoration of three rivers—the St. Johns, Ocklawaha, and Silver, now known as The Great Florida Riverway—plus 50 springs including Silver Springs. Governor DeSantis and the legislature can achieve the most important restoration project currently available for central and north Florida. This is the year to move forward.

The plan and permit application for partial restoration of the Ocklawaha are done, essential lands have been acquired, ample federal and state funds are available, and overwhelming public support has been demonstrated.

Three strong reasons why restoration can’t wait…

1. The Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam is past its life expectancy and is vulnerable to failure.

The dam is past its 50-year life expectancy and presents a danger to the town of Welaka and other downstream communities. Northeast Florida’s strongest resiliency project, breaching approximately one third of the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam creating a free-flowing Ocklawaha River, protects over 539 property owners with lands valued at over $57 million. It does not make sense to spend millions to repair a dam that does not provide any major public benefit. Restoration is the only fiscally responsible answer.

The 2018 Emergency Action Plan for the Kirkpatrick Dam and Rodman Reservoir by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that the dam has serious structural issues. Advocates are awaiting the pending 2020 assessment of this dying dam.
The Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam –

2. Breaching the Kirkpatrick Dam can help Florida’s manatees when they need it most.

Restoration Can Wait-Manatees-FB
Providing warm-water habitat for wintering manatees that is safe, has available food sources, and the right temperature to avoid cold stress syndrome is key to manatee conservation. Restoring the Great Florida Riverway by breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam could provide manatees with access to this essential type of habitat.

The Ocklawaha springs, now drowned by the impounded waters of the Rodman/ Kirkpatrick Dam and Silver Springs have been identified on the warm-water site list in Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s Florida Manatee Warm-Water Habitat Action Plan. Breaching the Kirkpatrick Dam would provide hundreds of manatees with unimpeded access to warm water habitat in the larger, uncovered Ocklawaha springs and Silver Springs. Manatees –

3. The Rodman/Kirkpatrick dam continues to degrade three rivers and 50 springs negatively impacting the economy and environment of northeast Florida.

The St. Johns River
Downstream, the dam blocks freshwater flow to the lower St. Johns River and communities such as Welaka, Palatka, Green Cove Springs, and Jacksonville. This has contributed to loss of submerged vegetation, undermined the economically valuable fishery and increased saltwater intrusion. When the Ocklawaha runs free, twenty freshwater springs along the Ocklawaha River, now submerged by the waters of the dam, would contribute more than 150 million gallons a day of freshwater flow downstream (equivalent to daily use of the City of Jacksonville.)

Silver Springs
Upstream, it radically reduced fish populations under the glass bottomed boats at Silver Springs contributing to lost visitation and a blighted tourist district. The habitat imbalance has fueled an invasive Tilapia explosion and abundance of harmful algae. Silver Springs cannot fully recover without a free-flowing Ocklawaha River.

The Rodman Reservoir or Impounded Ocklawaha River
Near the dam, the Buckman Lock of the Rodman Reservoir was recently closed for 15 days due to invasive aquatic weed blockages that required four herbicide applications. The herbicide-laden, browned-out vegetation sinks adding to the muck below or floats through the locks to the St. Johns River. It has contributed to the loss of an average of over 3000 boat visits per year to the Rodman Reservoir since 2010. Invasive Aquatic Weeds Temporarily Shut Down Cross Florida Barge Canal and Clog Portions of the Rodman Reservoir –
Free The Ocklawaha Coalition. For a list of our members click here .
Free the Ocklawaha
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