It’s time to finally free the Ocklawaha–

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Ocklawaha River north01wikicommons In: It’s time to finally free the Ocklawaha-- | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Ocklawaha River. Photo Wikipedia Commons.


This is one of the shameful issues still unsolved in Florida.  So far our state authorities have been unable or unwilling (the case now) to accomplish the removal.  Apparently federal political will is required.  At any rate, it is very hard to justify the status quo of doing nothing.

The Gainesville Sun does not provide a link to this article.

Following this editorial is an article by Cindy Swirko in the Gainesville Sun which appeared Wed. Feb. 3, 2021, topic of which is also freeing the Ocklawaha.  OSFR is also a member of the coalition headed by Margaret Spontak,  Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition for Everyone.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Gainesville Sun
Sunday, January 31, 2021

It’s time to finally free the Ocklawaha

The Gainesville Sun Editorial Board USA TODAY NETWORK Fifty years ago this month, President Richard Nixon ordered an end to an environmentally destructive barge canal that  would have bisected the Florida peninsula . Nixon had  a respectable environmental record that included creating the Environmental Protection Agency, signing the Clean Air Act into law and canceling funding for the financial boondoggle known as the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Other Republican leaders who followed took a similar approach when it came to removing the barge canal project’s most damaging legacy: a dam that backed up the Ocklawaha River and flooded about 7,500 forested acres, creating  the Rodman Reservoir .

Gov. Jeb Bush  called for the dam’s removal and vetoed a bill that would have protected it, and then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist advocated taking down the dam. Democratic Florida governors Reubin Askew and Lawton Chiles  also sought to remove the dam , all to no avail. Today the Kirkpatrick Dam and the Rodman Reservoir remain. The reservoir is a weedy mess filled with submerged stumps but is still a draw for hardcore bass fishing, so some Putnam County residents still fight to keep the dam intact….

The benefits include allowing access to the ‘lost springs’ submerged due to the dam, resurrecting wetlands, allowing the migration of manatees and other aquatic wildlife to Silver Springs, and letting cleaner water flow to the St. Johns River.

There is also a financial argument. Environmental groups have banded together as  the Free the Ocklawaha Coalition to make the case that removing at least part of the aging dam would be smarter than paying for its continued maintenance and upkeep. They  cite an economist’s findings that a restored Ocklawaha would bring more outdoor recreation than the reservoir’s declining fishery. Such benefits should appeal to Republicans such as Gov. Ron DeSantis. Yet  Florida Defenders of the Environment , the group started by Marjorie Carr and now led by her granddaughter Jennifer, had hoped for engagement with the DeSantis’ administration but so far has gotten little other than a few talks.

‘We will, of course, continue to work closely with interested stakeholders to ensure that all perspectives are considered,’ DeSantis’ science officer, Tom Frazer, told the Orlando Sentinel. DeSantis’ naming of Frazer, former director of  the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment , as the state’s first science officer was among the governor’s early moves that suggested he would take environmental protection seriously. He would burnish his environmental credentials by taking a stand for removing the reservoir.

Enough time has been wasted already. In April, the Ocklawaha was named   one of America’s most endangered rivers by the national American Rivers group. It’s time to finish the job and free the Ocklawaha.


Ocklawaha supporters envision major rec. hubs

Cindy Swirko Gainesville Sun USA TODAY NETWORK
Wed. Feb. 3, 2021

Proponents of a free-flowing Ocklawaha River have never tired of paddling upstream in pursuit of their decades- long cause and Tuesday they announced plans for a new effort that aims to unite advocates and anglers for the good of the entire St. Johns River system.

They envision the Buckman Lock, which controls the flow from Rodman Reservoir into the St. Johns, being partially converted into a recreational center for fishing, educational programs, duck hunting, camping and viewing of wildlife — including the manatees that are expected to grow in numbers with an open river and spring system.

The Rodman Dam area would include upgraded boat ramps and potentially a restaurant, recreation outfitter, playground and other amenities.

University of Florida landscape design students created both projects.

Margaret Spontak, president of Free the Ocklawaha River Coalition for Everyone, said the ideas are part of a multiyear effort to eventually restore the river.

“A wise Putnam County commissioner said we have to show people what they will gain, not just what they will lose,” Spontak said. “By doing this incrementally in two stages we know our true costs, we have more time to develop funding partners but most importantly, we have another year to do that people plan — to show people what they can gain.”

The effort is called Ocklawaha 2021 for Everyone.

Throughout Florida’s history the Ocklawaha, which starts in Lake County and divides Marion and Putnam counties, was a favored hunting and fishing ground for indiginous [sic] people. Spaniards created missions along it and it became a boat travel corridor to the St. Johns River for early settlers.

It took on a greater significance when the federal government in the 1930s provided initial money to create a cross-Florida barge canal from the Atlantic, via the St. Johns, to the Gulf of Mexico on the Ocklawaha and series of canals.

Work on the project continued slowly. In 1968, the Rodman Dam near Palatka was completed and flooded 7,500 acres of wetlands, 16 miles of river and about 20 springs.

Work was halted for good years later when it became apparent the canal was an ecological disaster and a financial boondoggle. Opponents of the barge canal then set their sights on the Ocklawaha’s restoration.

But Rodman Reservoir, created by the dam, had become a favorite of bass anglers. Despite various state and federal agencies along with political leaders recommending the dam be breached — also for both environmental and financial reasons — it has remained with the strong support of fishers.

Among the speakers at Tuesday’s announcement was Andrew Carter, senior conservation policy analyst for Florida Defenders of Wildlife.

Carter said restoring the river could help boost populations of species that have been in decline, including the Florida panther and Florida black bear.

“Florida is one of the most biodiverse states in the country … and is a biodiversity hotspot for threatened and endangered species,” Carter said. “The Ocklawaha river and its floodplain are an important part of (a corridor), providing habitat for fish, birds, mammals and reptiles.”

The coalition is searching for money on several fronts, including grants.

It also hopes Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature will see the value of the Ocklawaha plan in terms of the environment, recreation and a boost to the economies of Marion and Putnam counties through tourism.

In DeSantis’ proposed budget last week, he earmarked $360 million for Everglades restoration. “I think we are due — it’s central and northeast Florida if you look at the whole system. We are all paying taxes throughout the state, so project funds need to be sorted out accordingly,” Spontak said. “This is such a big return on investment. We have the plan, we have the land. It’s been said that it has all the elements that would meet requirements.”


  1. Removing Rodman Dam, and the benefits thereof, is clearly indicated by the success of dam removal in the Pacific Northwest, where the removal of at least several dams in Washington State, built by the Army Corps of Engineers during the
    1930s and ’40s has restored both steelhead and salmon runs and spawning success, with little loss to hydroelectric power, which is steadily being replaced by wind and solar generation.

  2. I can’t help but notice the similarities between the current Florida MCORES toll road project and this “ecological disaster and a financial boondoggle” from the 1930’s.

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