Frequently Asked Questions Reuniting the Rivers

What will be left behind when the Rodman reservoir is drained?
The pool created by the Rodman/Kirkpatrick dam currently covers about 7,500 acres of an area that was previously a wetland forest. Initially, the river will establish itself along its natural path and the wetland forest will return, beginning as marsh and transitioning over time to mature bottomland hardwood forest. Cypress, black gum, and other trees will sprout quickly as seen during the drawdowns that currently occur every 3-4 years. Opened-up banks along the river will quickly form compacted areas for shore fishing and camping like we see during the short drawdowns. The restored forest and river will attract an abundance of wildlife and fish and offer expanded recreational opportunities like hiking, primitive camping, wildlife viewing and the potential for managed hunting areas. Remarkably, returning to the natural free-flowing Ocklawaha River would also restore 20 natural springs of varying sizes that have been hidden for over 50 years.
Will nearby lakes and wells be impacted if the Ocklawaha is restored?
Hydrological studies have shown that periodic drawdowns in Rodman pool have a small impact on groundwater levels in wells adjacent to the reservoir and have little to no impact on wells located further from the reservoir. Since groundwater levels will not fluctuate significantly, the restoration and associated drawdown of the reservoir will also not cause declines in lake water levels in the vicinity of the reservoir.
(Source: St. Johns River Water Management District Technical Fact Sheet SJ2017-FS2)
Would the Rodman reservoir make a good drinking water supply source?
There are no plans to use the pool for drinking water. Using the Rodman pool as a drinking water source has been researched by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), the Withlacoochee River Water Supply Authority and local governments in the region. Each have concluded that production, treatment, and transmission costs would likely be two to four times more expensive than utilizing the traditional source, the Floridan Aquifer. The relatively poor water quality in the pool compared to aquifer water, coupled with high costs to transport, and treat the water, renders the Rodman pool an inferior drinking water supply source.
What will happen to the natural water flow after restoration? Where will it go?
Natural water flow from a free-flowing Ocklawaha River will not be wasted. In fact, it will provide many downstream benefits. Restoration will increase downstream flows by over 150 million gallons a day on average by reducing Rodman pool surface evapotranspiration and enhanced flow from 20 springs that are currently suppressed under the pool. The increased, cooler, clear spring water will improve water quality and critical nursery habitat for fish, shellfish, manatees, and other species in the St. Johns River estuary from Welaka to Palatka to Jacksonville. The additional and better-timed delivery of freshwater downstream will also help provide a natural barrier to higher salinity water moving upstream and impacting the commercial and recreational fisheries and wetland forests as is happening today.
How does the cost to restore the river compare with the cost to keep things the way they are?
A 2017 FDEP Greenway Plan estimates that the initial cost to restore the river is approximately $6.7 million* over four years. However, a free-flowing Ocklawaha will not require on-going, long-term, intensive management as does the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam and pool, and Buckman Lock. The extensive, stagnant water in the pool requires significant annual expenditures for spraying herbicides and damaging drawdowns to help manage prolific, invasive vegetation. More importantly, since Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam and Buckman Lock are now past their 50-year life expectancies and do not meet current engineering safety standards, retaining them will cost many millions of dollars to avoid an estimated $57 million in potential damages to downstream homes and properties that would result from a dam failure. These expenditures would be unnecessary with a restored, naturally flowing river.

Finally, a recent economic analysis projects a 28% increase in recreational activity with a restored river compared to the existing pool. The projected 10-year return on investment is 7.6% which is greater than most public works projects. Restoration is projected to bring a cumulative net benefit of $47.2 million over 10 years, while keeping the dam or status quo with no restoration is projected to create a cumulative loss of $5.3 million (Alan Hodges, PhD, retired UF economist). Restoration would yield much needed, increased economic activity to this rural area.

* Cost does not include recreation upgrades or updated construction costs.

What would the difference be between the current downstream water flow (and fish and wildlife passage) and the downstream water flow (and fish and wildlife passage) after restoration?
The water flow of a restored Ocklawaha River would be about 10% more than what currently passes through the Rodman dam spillway and Buckman lock. That is because the restored river will release an additional 150+ million gallons a day on average by reducing evapotranspiration from the extensive surface of Rodman pool and increasing flow from 20 springs that are currently suppressed.

Regarding fish and wildlife passage, to travel up or downstream now, fish and manatees must pass through the lock system. Currently, very few fish and manatees make their way into the lock and then into the pool compared to the free-flowing river scenario. This is particularly true for fish since they are naturally attracted by constantly flowing water and not by very limited, intermittent pulses such as those generated by the occasional opening and closing of a lock. Some have suggested just leaving the lock wide open; however, doing so would drain the pool completely in less than a week.

How will breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam impact the current fishing economy in Putnam County?
Putnam County’s world renown fishing was recognized well before the dam was built, and its current fishing economy is not heavily dependent on the Rodman Reservoir. The St. Johns River within 50 miles of Palatka is ranked 4th in the nation by Bassmaster’s while the Rodman Reservoir is ranked 8th. Many of the trophy fish caught in the local bass tournaments are caught in the St. Johns River. Putnam County is also home to 267 lakes over ten acres in size with several lakes in the region hosting fishing tournaments. After restoration, other sport-fished species, such as much larger (20-40 pound) striped bass, will become much more available. The University of Florida (UF) published a study in 2017 on the economic importance and value of the Rodman Dam. The study found that activities on the natural stretches of the Ocklawaha River result in greater contributions to the regional economy, compared to the recreation on Rodman Reservoir. During the 2019/2020 drawdown that partially exposed the natural river channel, recreational visitation increased 81% over the two years prior during the same time when the reservoir was full.
Would restoration eliminate or decrease bank fishing?
Bank fishing opportunities will actually increase as miles of riverbanks along the natural stretch of the Ocklawaha River dramatically increase. During drawdowns some of these banks at Kenwood, Paynes Landing and Orange Springs are open and very popular. Additional sites will open with full restoration and an important aspect of our work is to ensure that those opportunities are realized.
Restoration is expected to bring an abundance of many sought-after species such as Striped Bass, Redbreast Sunfish, Spotted Sunfish, Channel Catfish, White Catfish, and Brown Bullhead to the system. It is true that the “tailwater fishing” that is currently popular just below the dam will no longer exist. However, there will remain a shallow pool in that location and the existing boat ramp and recreational facilities are expected to be improved.
How will breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam impact the fisheries?
Breaching the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam and eliminating it as barrier to fish movement would allow fish species to distribute throughout the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers, so the fishing experience will change when the Rodman pool is gone. However, very viable fisheries will continue in the river without requiring the ongoing costly maintenance and management activities.

Similarly, since fish attempting to move up the river currently are blocked by the dam, they congregate in large numbers in the dam’s tailwaters where they are easily targeted by bank fisherman. Breaching the dam would impact this tailwater fishery, but overall fish abundance would not decrease, since these fish would continue to move upstream and disperse throughout the river and springs. Additionally, the numbers and types of fish species would increase upstream of the current dam, resulting in an enhanced fishing experience.

Will migratory species that used to populate the Silver Springs return after restoration?
Removing the dam would allow fish species such as Striped Mullet and Channel Catfish that were historically observed in great numbers in Silver Springs renewed access to the springs and upper reaches of the river. Mullet are one of the few species that eat algae that now covers the once bright green eel grass in Silver Springs. Overall, fish species diversity and abundance would increase significantly upstream of the dam, including in Silver Springs. Currently the native fish are only half of what they once were, and the exotic Blue Tilapia population has exploded. Bringing back large native fish predators will help control the Tilapia population.

Will restoration be good or bad for manatees?
Restoration will be good for manatees by providing unimpeded access to 20 newly uncovered springs and Silver River and Springs. This is critically important since manatees need warm freshwater sources in the winter. A 2007 study by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that these “lost springs” would provide habitat “for many hundreds of manatees.” It is further estimated that Silver Springs would accommodate hundreds more. Rodman pool is not suitable as winter habitat because its waters can drop below 68°F, and that could cause manatees to develop cold stress and become sick or die. Since manatees statewide have lost over 10% of their population over the past few years, breaching of the dam to provide access to these critical warm water habitats is more important than ever.

Will restoration be good or bad for the natural ecosystem?
Restoration will be significantly better for the natural ecosystem. Construction of Rodman Dam effectively destroyed the natural ecosystem by eliminating 7500 acres of floodplain forest, inundating twenty springs and blocking the migration of numerous fish species and manatees from the Atlantic Ocean to Silver Springs. It also caused, and continues to cause, other significant, harmful ecological effects stemming from water quality impacts in the St. Johns River from the mouth of the Ocklawaha River to Jacksonville. The dam’s reduction in flow of clear, cool water to the St. Johns River increases toxic algae blooms and hampers recovery of desirable eelgrass. The dam also greatly reduces the delivery of critical nutrients to the St. Johns River that would help prevent toxic algae blooms. Restoring the natural system to “the way the good Lord made it,” would eliminate all of these adverse impacts and help improve natural ecosystems from Silver Springs to the Atlantic Ocean.

Does the Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam filter out pollutants from the St. Johns River? Will breaching the dam pollute the St. Johns River?
The processes within the reservoir do filter out one “pollutant” (phosphorus) and transform nitrogen to ammonia. However, It also filters out an important nutrient (silica). While an increase in phosphorus from breaching the dam is not desirable, it is manageable. This portion of the St. Johns River actually needs timely delivery of both nitrogen and silica for a healthy food chain, which supports recreational and commercial fisheries. Conversion of nitrogen to ammonia and retention of silica in the reservoir are detrimental to the health of the system. Breaching the dam would deliver both nitrogen and silica in a natural, uninterrupted fashion to the benefit of the St. johns River.