The time has come to finally restore the Ocklawaha River. The Ocklawaha is the largest tributary to the St. Johns River. Restoration of the Ocklawaha's historic flow will provide significant ecological benefits to the St. Johns and would mitigate some of the adverse impacts of the proposed channel deepening of the river.
As a result, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER, the City of Jacksonville, Jax Chamber, and JAXPORT recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines a plan to work together to restore the Ocklawaha River. The MOU is a non-binding agreement that all parties will collaborate to seek authorization and funding for the removal or breaching of the Kirkpatrick Dam (aka Rodman Dam) and the restoration of the floodplains that have been severely impacted by the impoundment.
St. Johns RIVERKEEPER will simultaneously move forward with legal means to achieve more protections for the St. Johns River. If the restoration of the Ocklawaha River is authorized and funded by the end of the upcoming legislative session or soon thereafter, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER will not take legal action or will withdraw any active challenge to the Army Corps of Engineers' Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed St. Johns River dredging project in Jacksonville. However, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER does reserve the right to challenge any of the future permits associated with the dredging, if warranted.
The Need For Restoration
Unfortunately, the Ocklawaha and its springs and wetlands have suffered for over 45 years, as a result of efforts in the 1960's to create a quicker maritime route across Florida, the Cross Florida Barge Canal. President Nixon put a permanent end to this boondoggle project in 1971, but not before the Rodman Dam (now know as the Kirkpatrick Dam) was built across the Ocklawaha and the Rodman Pool was created. The dam resulted in the clearing and flooding of approximately 7,500 acres of floodplain forests and disruption of the normal hydrology to about 8,000 acres downstream.
According to riverbedammed.org, "The construction of the Kirkpatrick Dam and devastation of the wetlands above and below stream saw the loss of a free, natural, nutrient-cleansing machine, approximately 15,000 acres in size." Wetland scientist Robin Lewis explains, “We already have, below the dam, about 8,000 acres of stressed wetlands that do not get enough water. And then, above the dam, we have 7,000 acres that have too much water. All that habitat, all that water-cleansing power, could be harnessed to improve the environment and improve the river. But it's got to be restored.”
Benefits to the St. Johns River from the restoration of the Ocklawaha include:
Restoration of Critical Freshwater Forested Wetlands
- 8,000 acres of forested wetlands are currently stressed in the lower Ocklawaha River due to restricted flow.
- 7,500 acres of forested wetlands are currently submerged in the Rodman Pool.
Water Quality Improvements
- Restoration of over 15,000 acres of forested wetlands will improve the ecological function of the St. Johns River Ecosystem.
Dilution of Increased Salinity
- Restoring the natural flow of more than 300 million gallons of freshwater flow per day from the Ocklawaha River to the St. Johns River will offset a portion of the increased tidal force from the dredging that will push the saltwater wedge further upstream.
Habitat Restoration for Fisheries and Endangered Species
- Restoration would restore natural migration patterns by allowing eel and migratory fish, like shad, striped bass, channel catfish and mullet, to access the upper parts of the river and Silver Springs.
- Endangered species including manatees, black bear, and Atlantic Sturgeon would benefit by restoring land and water connectivity and providing additional habitat.
In addition, the Ocklawaha River Restoration will benefit Silver Springs which is currently impaired from nutrient pollution and a severe reduction in flow.
Restoration of the lower Ocklawaha River has been extensively studied by state and federal agencies. These studies (see resources below) provide most of the information and justification to pursue restoration of the lower Ocklawaha River.
Restoring the function of the Ocklawaha River and its associated floodplain forest that are now submerged beneath Rodman Pool is a relatively straightforward process and can be successfully completed at a cost significantly less than most restoration projects.
You can learn more about the adverse impacts of the Kirkpatrick Dam on the Ocklawaha River and benefits of restoration at riverbedammed.org. We highly recommend this informative, mult-media project created by Matt Keene and sponsored by Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE).
You can also learn more about the impacts to the St. Johns from the proposed dredging project and the concerns of St. Johns RIVERKEEPER by clicking here.
Ocklawaha River Restoration Resources
Environmental Studies Concerning Four Alternatives for Rodman Reservoir and the Lower Ocklawaha River - Vol. 1, Executive Summary 1994
Summary Document : Environmental and Economic Efficacy Studies of Complete Restoration of the Ocklawaha River; Partial Restoration of the Ocklawaha River; Total Retention of the Rodman Reservoir; and Partial Retention of the Rodman Reservoir, DEP 1995
1933 – The Canal Authority of Florida was created to develop a deep shipping channel across the state of Florida.
1935-36 – Construction of the canal began, but was halted due to lack of funding.
July 23, 1942 – Congress authorized the Cross Florida Barge Canal.
1964 – Congress appropriated funding and construction began, once again.
1968 - The Ocklawaha River was dammed by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), creating Rodman Reservoir.
1969 – The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and with support from Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE) and others filed suit to stop construction.
1970 - President Nixon’s Council on Environmental Quality recommended terminating the project.
January 15, 1971 - U. S. District Court Judge Barrington Parker issued his ruling on the EDF lawsuit, calling for an injunction and mandating an Environmental Impact Statement.
January 19, 1971 – President Richard Nixon suspended further work on the Barge Canal.
March 3, 1971 – Dr. O.E. Frye, former Executive Director of the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC), wrote a letter to Governor Reubin Askew recommending that the Ocklawaha River floodplain be restored to its original scenic qualities.
January 1974 - U.S. District Court Judge Harvey Johnsen ruled that Nixon’s termination was unlawful because Congress had both authorized and funded the canal and only it could halt the project.
February 1976 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) completed a re-study and Environmental Impact Statement for the Canal. The Chief of Engineers recommended that all activities leading toward construction of the project be terminated.
May 23, 1977 – President Jimmy Carter directed the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Agriculture to review with other agencies and the Governor of Florida, available studies and findings to alternatives for restoration of the Ocklawaha River portion of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project.
1977 – Governor Reubin Askew and the Cabinet passed a resolution recommending that the canal not be completed, that Congress de-authorize the project, and the Ocklawaha River be restored.
1989 – The Florida Governor and Cabinet unanimously passed a resolution calling for the de-authorization.
March 16, 1990 – GFC Director of Environmental Services sent an internal letter expressing support for restoring the Ocklawaha River.
November 28, 1990 – President George H.W. Bush signed law de-authorizing the Cross Florida Barge Canal and changed the purpose of the lands to recreation and conservation.
July 1993 – The Florida Legislature directed that a feasibility study of four options (Full Retention, Partial Retention, Partial Restoration, and Full Restoration) be conducted for Rodman Reservoir.
January 21, 1994 – The US Forest Service (USFS) issued a special use permit for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) authorizing them to maintain and operate Kirkpatrick Dam on USFS lands for five years.
January 17, 1995 – The study requested by the Florida Legislature was presented to the Governor, Cabinet, and Legislature, with Partial Restoration being recommended.
November 1997 – Permit applications for restoration were submitted to the St. Johns River Water Management District by DEP, which have not been completely reviewed as of this date.
December 31, 1999 – U.S. Forest Service (USFS) permit allowing occupancy of federal lands expired but was extended twice to allow additional time to apply for new occupancy agreement.
May 30, 2002 – USFS prepared special use permit for DEP signature to allow DEP to occupy federal lands, which DEP declined to sign.
March 2010 – USFS prepared a special use permit for DEP to sign again, which DEP declined to sign again.
February 21, 2012 – Earthjustice filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue with the USFS to protect endangered species (manatees and shortnose sturgeon) which may have had migratory runs impeded by the Kirkpatrick Dam.
An examination of the Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam and its impacts on the Ocklawaha River in Florida. Produced for River be dammed, a multimedia project investigating the Ocklawaha River and its relationship with the Kirkpatrick Dam. See the full project at http://www.riverbedammed.org
Reported, filmed and edited by Matt Keene.