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, expand recreational and economic opportunities, and mitigate some of the adverse impacts of the proposed channel deepening of the St. Johns River.
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 greatly enhance bio-filtration and 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.
- Wildlife, such as black bears and the endangered manatee, would benefit by restoring land and water connectivity and providing additional habitat.
Expansion of Recreational Opportunities
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 for more than four decades. These studies (see resources below) have identified the importance and numerous benefits of restoration.
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. The preferred restoration option would involve breaching the dam to restore the natural channel of the Ocklawaha, while retaining the existing infrastructure, including current recreation facilities (see rendering below).
You can learn more about the adverse impacts of the Kirkpatrick Dam on the Ocklawaha River and benefits of restoration at riverbedammed.org, an informative, mult-media project created by Matt Keene and Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE).
Federal and State Agencies Support Restoration
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
“EPA strongly supports the restoration of the Ocklawaha River, as detailed in USFS Forest Supervisor Martha Kearney’s January 4, 2002 NEPA Record of Decision on the FEIS for the Ocklawaha River restoration.”
“EPA supports the Ocklawaha River Restoration. The restoration should proceed as soon as possible.”
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
“The purpose of this letter is to encourage the USACE to reconsider including removal of the Kirkpatrick Dam as mitigation for the Jacksonville Harbor Navigation Study.”
“It is our (USDA) position that removal of the dam infrastructure and restoration of the Ocklawaha River would result in substantial downstream and upstream benefits for water quality, recreation and endangered species.”
“Multiple existing studies have addressed potential effects of removing the Kirkpatrick Dam and many of these have shown clear connections with resource concerns in the St. Johns River.”
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS):
“NMFS does not support preservation as the sole mitigation measure proposed in the base mitigation. Preserving existing healthy SAV [submerged aquatic vegetation] and tidal freshwater wetlands do not sufficiently compensate the public for the ecosystem services that will be lost due to deepening the federal navigation channel.”
“NMFS continues to recommend the Jacksonville District evaluate further restoration of the lower Ocklawaha River as mitigation for impacts to tidal freshwater wetlands. Restoration of the lower Ocklawaha River would benefit tidally influenced freshwater forested wetlands, provide water quality improvements, dilute increased salinities, and benefit federally managed fisheries and endangered species habitat (such as Atlantic Sturgeon), as well as lands managed by U.S. Forest Service.”
Florida Department of Environmental Protection 1997 Environmental Resource Permit:
“It should be emphasized that the proposed project is an ecosystem restoration projects with the objectives of restoring the historic functions of the Ocklawaha River and its floodplain within the project area. As such, the project is expected to remediate the adverse conditions discussed above. In addition to these net environmental benefits, other socioeconomic benefits are expected to be generated by the proposed project including: (1) the elimination of public tax expenditures for the operation and maintenance of Buckman Lock and for the continued management of exotic and nuisance aquatic vegetation, and (2) the provision of enhanced recreational opportunities on the restored river.”Ocklawaha River Restoration Resources
Ocklawaha Restoration Resources
Florida Times-Union Three-Part Series by Dr. Jeremy Stalker –
Part One: The science behind the Rodman dam dispute
Part Two: The mystery of the missing water from the Ocklawaha River
Part Three: How evaporation from Rodman pool affects St. Johns River
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 https://www.riverbedammed.org
Reported, filmed and edited by Matt Keene.