Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Editorial: Take down the Rodman Dam
For nearly a half century environmental activists have fought to have the Rodman Dam taken down, to no avail. Now, the group that started the fight back in 1969 is going to court to force the U.S. Forest Service to remove the dam and allow the storied Ocklawaha River to flow free again.
The Florida Defenders of the Environment, joined by University of Florida law professor Joe Little and environmental lawyer Bruce Kaster, are challenging the Forest Service on the grounds that the permit it issued to the state of Florida to operate the dam, and the 9,000-acre Rodman Reservoir it created, expired in 1998 and the state no longer has rights to keep the dam or the reservoir. The Forest Service disputes that it was required to issue a new permit and says it is working with “stakeholders” to find a solution. Frankly, we doubt it.
The battle over the Rodman Dam — now officially named the Kirkpatrick Dam after former state Sen. George Kirkpatrick, a major advocate for the dam — is one of Florida’s oldest environmental fights.
The FDE was created in 1969 to stop the Cross Florida Barge Canal, and with it the Rodman Dam. The group and others were successful in stopping the ill-fated canal, an Army Corps of Engineers boondoggle that would have cut a huge ditch across North Florida. But the dam has remained. In a weird irony, the Rodman Reservoir abuts the Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway, named after the founder of FDE.
The conflict between dam opponents and proponents ratcheted up when the reservoir, which was originally intended to be a holding pool for large barges, became a renowned fish hole, drawing fisherman from across the country. Local fishing enthusiasts and businesses say it is now a major economic driver for neighboring Putnam County.
Over the course of the decades-old battle, removal of the dam has been supported by every major environmental group, as well as Florida Govs. Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush. At the same time, pro-dam forces have had plenty of friends in the Florida Legislature who used their power to stave off removal.
Taking the Rodman down will not destroy quality fishing, as dam supporters say. A free-flowing Ocklawaha will likely become filled with fish and remain a draw to fisherman. FDE and others say the river has lost more than 20 species of fish, not to mention manatees, because the dam blocks upstream movement and spawning. The Silver River, which feeds into the Ocklawaha, has lost more than 90 percent of its fish population since the dam was built.
The Ocklawaha has been the subject of poets and artists over the course of history because of its once-magnificent beauty — before the dam wrecked its ecosystems. Not only will the removal of the Rodman improve wildlife, it will improve the quality of the water in the Silver River, the Ocklawaha River and the St. Johns River, which the Ocklawaha feeds into.
Nature has a funny way of healing itself if given half a chance. The Ocklawaha was once considered one of America’s most beautiful and wild rivers — there is little development along its banks. It can be that again.
It is time to remove the dam, which FDE and others estimate will cost $20 million. Let the river flow free, let the fish and other species return to their natural habitat and help our waterways flush like nature intended them to. Take the Rodman down.