Free the Ocklawaha

For over 50 years …

The Ocklawaha River (the largest tributary of the St. Johns River) and its springs and wetlands have been impacted by a Dam that was built in Putnam County in the late 1960’s as part of the failed Cross Florida Barge Canal. The Rodman Dam (now known as the Kirkpatrick Dam) resulted in the clearing and flooding of approximately 7,500 acres of floodplain forests, while submerging over 20 springs and 16 miles of the Ocklawaha River beneath a massive pool of water.

The time has come to finally free the Ocklawaha River and reconnect the Ocklawaha, Silver and St. Johns Rivers! Breaching this dam will re-establish access to essential habitat for manatees, bring back migratory fish, reconnect three river ecosystems, historic Silver Springs, and restore a lost riverway for anglers and paddlers from the Ocklawaha to the Atlantic. We have a historic opportunity to save this Great Florida Riverway once and for all!

Free the Ocklawaha River – for Everyone!

We are proud to be a founding member of The Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition which includes 50 organizations representing thousands of members from across Florida and beyond. Our collective mission is to restore the Ocklawaha as a free-flowing River, reconnecting the Silver and St. Johns Rivers, and elevating the regional benefits for all!

Experience the Great Florida Riverway
Restore 3 Rivers and 50 Springs with 1 Solution

The history, science, passion, and economics converge into a one-hour online special featuring 24 voices along the Great Florida Riverway — the Ocklawaha, Silver Springs and St. Johns. From stunning videography to unforgettable memories to leading-edge science, those that care about this Great Florida Riverway came together for the rivers. Watch the full documentary.

Cypress Forest

Over 50 years ago, 7,500 acres of pristine cypress forest were destroyed by the Rodman Dam creating this drowned cypress graveyard. A free-flowing Ocklawaha River, breaching the dam, would restore this valuable forest and would provide water quality filtering, natural flood protection, and wildlife habitat. #FreeTheOcklawaha

Springs

Did you know: 20 lost springs have been covered up by the weight of the Rodman Dam pool? Pictured here: Beautiful Cannon Springs of the Ocklawaha River in all its glory. #FreeTheOcklawaha and help us restore the lost springs – forever.

Manatees

This year, 2021, is the deadliest on record for manatees. Many of those deaths are connected to starvation caused by seagrass losses due to algal blooms fueled by water pollution and excess nutrients. Looking beyond the current crisis, however, loss and degradation of natural habitat that provides forage and warm water essential to manatees’ survival remains their greatest long-term threat. Restoring essential habitat such as the springs of the Ocklawaha River and Silver Springs is crucial to ensure the preservation of this beloved species.

More manatees in Silver Springs would also help boost Silver Springs State Park attendance and bring back the eco-tourism economy in East Marion County. #FreeTheOcklawaha

Recreation

A free-flowing Ocklawaha reconnecting Silver Springs to the St. Johns River will revitalize the Northeast Florida economy by bringing back diverse fishing, reducing herbicide use, increasing manatees in Silver Springs, expanding recreational resources and improving wildlife viewing. #FreeTheOcklawaha

Fish

A free-flowing Ocklawaha river, connecting Silver Springs and the St. Johns River, will increase the volume and diversity of fish and shellfish all along the river system. By breaching the Dam, migratory species that once used the Ocklawaha River and Silver Springs would regain their essential habitat. #FreeTheOcklawaha

The Real Ocklawaha: What Does Restoration Look Like?

Restoring the function of the Ocklawaha River and its associated floodplain forest that are now submerged beneath the Rodman Pool is a relatively straightforward process and can be successfully completed at a cost significantly less than most restoration projects. The recommended restoration option would involve breaching the dam 2,000 feet to restore the natural channel of the Ocklawaha, while retaining the popular park and recreation facilities.

 

Benefits of Freeing the Ocklawaha:

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 Improvement

  • 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.
  • Creates a much cooler, clearer, free-flowing Ocklawaha River reducing the need for repetitive herbicide spraying of invasive aquatic plants to avoid frequent boat ramp and river blockages. Discontinuation, or significant decrease, of long-term herbicide application would improve water quality and habitat.

Dilution of Increased Salinity

  • Restoring the natural flow of 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.
  • Restoration will reduce the impacts to the Lower Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers from periodic drawdowns that occur every three to four years. Drawdowns, although helpful in managing aquatic weeds and increasing fish productivity, can impact the lower Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers by 1) repeated discharge of slugs of nitrogen and phosphorus downstream and 2) altering the estuary salinity balance.
  • Restoration will help balance salt and freshwater in the Lower St. Johns River Estuary to protect its sports fishing and shellfish industries and vital habitat, while assuring coastal resiliency and reduction of saltwater intrusion.

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.
  • Water clarity and available light would increase, promoting submerged aquatic vegetation growth in the St. Johns River, which is essential for fish and wildlife.
  • Natural water flow would be reestablished, and blue-green algal impacts minimized, enhancing the entire Lower St. Johns River. Toxic blue-green algal blooms represent the most significant water quality problem for the Lower St. Johns River. Restoring a better balance between nitrogen and phosphorus would favor a more beneficial algal community and enhance the aquatic food chain.

Expansion of Recreation Opportunities

  • In addition to providing greater unique outdoor experiences, including kayaking and nature photography, the Ocklawaha River Restoration will benefit Silver Springs (the largest spring in the St. Johns River Watershed and a major recreational haven), which is currently impaired from nutrient pollution and a severe reduction in flow.