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Orange Creek Basin
The 600-square-mile Orange Creek Basin, primarily in Alachua County, is part of the lower Ocklawaha River watershed. Limestone beneath much of the surface of the basin has resulted in the formation of sinkholes, large shallow lakes and broad wet prairies. These shallow water bodies fluctuate over a broad range due to droughts or heavy rains, natural processes essential for healthy shallow lakes and marshes.
The Orange Creek Basin contains a variety of aquatic habitats, including Paynes Prairie, an extensive shallow marsh within a state park preserve. The largest lakes in the basin — totaling 29,000 acres — are Newnans, Lochloosa and Orange.
Orange Lake, Lake Lochloosa, Paynes Prairie, River Styx, Cross Creek and Lochloosa Creek are “Outstanding Florida Waters,” a state designation that provides a high level of protection because of the exceptional richness of aquatic and wetland habitats. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is also a recognized National Natural Landmark.
Water quality, altered hydrology, excessive organic sediment accumulation and management of invasive exotic species are the biggest challenges in the basin. Excess phosphorus flows (or “loads”) into Newnans Lake making its way through Prairie Creek and Camps Canal to Orange Lake. Invasive plants, especially hydrilla, have led to excessive organic sediment accumulation, especially in Newnans and Orange lakes. Multi-year droughts since 2000 that have resulted in low lake levels have aggravated water quality problems in the basin lakes.
The St. Johns River Water Management District’s Governing Board added the Orange Creek Basin to the Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program priority list in 2003. The program goal is to restore and maintain healthy aquatic and wetland habitats in the basin’s three large lakes and Paynes Prairie. This is necessary because water quality and aquatic and wetland habitats in these lakes have declined over the past century due to development in the basin.
Hatchet Creek is a scenic area in the Newnans Lake Conservation Area.
The Orange Creek Basin SWIM program is focused on reducing pollutants, especially excess phosphorus in Newnans, Lochloosa and Orange lakes, initially through scientific development of estimates of pollutant reduction needed to restore the lakes to state water quality standards. Major activities include monitoring water quality and plankton communities, modeling pollutant loading, quantifying sources of nutrient pollutants and coordinating with state and local governments. One such activity is Sweetwater Wetlands Park where the district provided matching funds and technical assistance to the city of Gainesville. Sweetwater Wetlands Park is a 125-acre man-made wetland habitat adjacent to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in the city of Gainesville. The park was designed to improve water quality to Paynes Prairie wetlands, Alachua Sink and the Floridan aquifer. Since the 1930s, natural sheetflow of Sweetwater Branch onto Paynes Prairie was disrupted when a ditch was constructed to drain portions of the prairie to expand grazing areas. The ditch diverted the Sweetwater Branch directly to Alachua Sink, which resulted in the dehydration and alteration of more than 1,300 acres of prairie wetlands and provided a direct connection to Alachua Sink. This direct connection prevented the natural attenuation of nutrients, which had lowered the water quality flowing into Alachua Sink. In addition, stormwater runoff and direct discharges of treated wastewater to Sweetwater Branch from urban areas have been major contributors of pollution and nutrients to Paynes Prairie. The Sweetwater Wetlands Park protects and improves water quality by restoring natural water flow, creating high-quality wetland habitat and increasing conservation lands within the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The project, begun in 2009 and completed in 2015, offers nature trails and wildlife viewing opportunities for the public. For more information on Sweetwater Wetlands Park, visit the city of Gainesville's website.
In 2011, the district prepared and the agency’s Governing Board approved an updated Orange Creek Basin Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Plan to guide restoration of water quality and wetland and aquatic habitats, primarily in Newnans, Lochloosa and Orange lakes. This plan is an update to the 1996 Surface Water Management Plan and serves as the first official SWIM plan for the Orange Creek Basin, meeting SWIM Act requirements.
Updated on 8-13-2015