Understanding the value of water
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In this issue
Hundreds share their time and energy on district projects and enrich its core mission in a variety of ways.
Amendment One funding helps to expand restoration work at several district projects.
Once a major restoration project is completed, the work continues as the district begins long-term maintenance.
District staff shine through Hurricane Matthew.
Amendment One funds expand restoration work
By Ed Garland
The trailblazers who drained many of Florida’s marshes and wetlands in the 1940s and 50s for development or agricultural endeavors likely did not realize the inherent benefits of the ubiquitous cordgrass and sawgrass that define these habitats.
Native grasses help to filter water by removing sediments before they reach larger water bodies. Grasses are also highly flammable and play an important role during prescribed fires, which are essential to maintaining natural systems and reducing the threat of wildfire.
“Because they are so flammable, native grasses also control unwanted shrubs during prescribed burns, which means we rely less on herbicides when restoring natural systems,” says Steven R. Miller, St. Johns River Water Management District Land Resources bureau chief.
Here’s the rub: spartina (cordgrass) and sawgrass don’t, as a rule, return on their own when marshes are restored. They need a little help.
Thanks to Amendment One funding received during fiscal year 2015–2016, the district was able to plant native grasses at Sunnyhill Restoration Area, Lake Apopka North Shore and the Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area. The properties are located in Lake, Marion and Orange counties.
“And that was just for starters,” says St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle.
“Funding provided through Amendment One has had a direct benefit on expanding opportunities for restoration across the district.”
— District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle
“Funding provided through Amendment One has had a direct benefit on expanding opportunities for restoration across the district,” Shortelle explains. “The district continues to demonstrate responsible fiscal stewardship by focusing on projects that directly contribute to our core mission areas of water supply, flood protection, water quality and natural systems.”
The district received $2.7 million for its 2015–2016 fiscal year as a result of Amendment One, which dedicates funds for the purchase and restoration of conservation and recreation lands. The funds allowed the district to complete additional restoration work beyond its original budget. The work included marsh restoration ($1.08 million), hydrologic restoration ($620,000), upland restoration ($614,000) and other land management activities ($430,000).
In Alachua County, the district helped restore the hydrology of an area near Lochloosa Lake by removing artificial ridges, or berms, that were built during forestry operations in the 1980s. Ranging from 2–6 feet in height, the berms interrupted surface water flow, directing water to a nearby road instead of toward the lake. Work to remove the berms includes patching holes caused by erosion and topping the surface with grass seed. The project will improve both water supply and water quality.
Amendment One funds also enabled the district to address wildland urban interface and prescribed fire buffers in Volusia, St. Johns, Putnam, Brevard and Orange counties.
In areas where district-owned property borders urban areas, grassy tracts are created that serve as natural buffers between the properties. The buffer facilitates safe prescribed fires and is also a step in reducing wildfire hazards to nearby communities, maintaining the area’s ecology and improving habitats for red-cockaded woodpeckers.
In the Upper St. Johns River Basin prior to 1900, marsh grasses, shrubs, cypress and maple trees comprised perhaps 80 percent of the landscape. In the decades that followed, the draining of the river’s marshes allowed willows to thrive and outpace other species, covering about 40 percent of the landscape.
Amendment One funds were used to expand the district’s willow control program with dramatic results. Areas that resembled willow jungles are now teeming with sawgrass and open skies.
“The additional funding from Amendment One enabled us to accelerate the restoration of marshes from the willow-dominated conditions that had befallen them,” Shortelle says. “Willows also consume about 40 percent more water than marsh grass, so controlling willow actually has a water supply benefit.”
All projects were completed by the end of the district’s fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2016.