The following article was published in the Florida Times Union and run by the Gainesville Sun on Sept. 12,a 2020
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Breaching dam would bring ecotourism benefits
What if there were a win-win scenario for breaching the dam on the Ocklawaha River?
What if the current wave of ecotourism could produce an increased interest in Putnam County?
What if the environmental benefits of infusing fresh water into the St. Johns River were documented and compared to other methods of preserving the river?
After all, the Ocklawaha River is the largest tributary of the St. Johns River.
Damming it as part of the failed Cross-Florida Barge Canal resulted in stopping up at least 18 springs and preventing fresh water from entering the river.
But it also created a reservoir for bass fishermen and a critical piece of the Putnam County economy.
Efforts to breach the Kirkpatrick Dam and infuse fresh water into the St. Johns have run into powerful political opposition based on the fear of losing its economic potential.
The Free the Ocklawaha Coalition is one of several environmental groups that want to breach the dam. American Rivers ranked the Ocklawaha as endangered.
A report from the St. Johns Riverkeeper notes that restoring the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River will improve the ecology of the St. Johns River ecosystem and will help to offset the saltwater infusion from increased dredging.
What if recreation could not only be preserved but improved? Plans to breach the dam would include retaining the recreational assets. Meanwhile, opening the Ocklawaha to the St. Johns River would result in a wider variety of fish.
The plan calls for improved waterfront areas; outdoor facilities like bike lanes, canoe trails and hiking trails; more visual appeal; upgrading bed and breakfast facilities; assistance to tourism businesses; and support for natural, recreational and historic sites.
An artificial lake doesn’t fit the desire for authenticity today. But a return to Mother Nature, the real Florida, does.
Since the Ocklawaha River is dammed, where does the water go? Jeremy Stalker, a Jacksonville University associate professor of Marine Science, answered that question in a column published by the Times-Union.
Some of the water flows into the underground aquifer system, some evaporates. If water consistently flowed from springs into the river, Stalker wrote, “The Ocklawaha would start to look very similar to other spring-fed rivers like the Crystal River or the Ichetucknee River….