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Water bodies, watersheds and storm water

History of the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin

The Moss Bluff Lock and Dam stabilizes water levels and provides flood control.

The Moss Bluff Lock and Dam stabilizes water levels and provides flood control.

The Upper Ocklawaha River has seen many changes in the decades since the river was dredged to improve navigation for steamboats in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, 6 miles of the upper Ocklawaha River were abandoned when a parallel canal was dug at the edge of the floodplain to drain and convert 2,800 acres of sawgrass marsh into farmland at Ocklawaha Prairie. Further upstream in the 1920s, Sunnyhill Farm was established by diverting the river into a canal and draining 3,000 acres of sawgrass marsh. Between these two properties, Moss Bluff Lock and Dam was completed in 1925 to manage water levels and flows. To the south, adjacent to Lake Griffin, another 6,500 acres of sawgrass marsh were drained for muck farming at Emeralda Marsh in the 1950s. The Burrell Lock and Dam and the Apopka Lock and Dam were completed in the 1950s upstream to stabilize water levels and provide flood control.

Much has been accomplished since the St. Johns River Water Management District began its work in 1988 under Florida’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program to restore water quality and fish and wildlife habitat in the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin. Local, state and federal agencies and other groups have been partners in cooperative projects, which have included:

  • Purchase and restoration of 15,000 acres of former muck farms to create aquatic and wetland habitat
  • Restoration of 15 miles of the historic upper Ocklawaha River channel and surrounding floodplain marshes
  • Adoption of pollutant load reduction goals (PLRGs), which the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used to establish total maximum daily loads (TMDLs)
  • Harvesting gizzard shad in lakes Griffin and Apopka to reduce phosphorus levels
  • Re-establishment of the Harris Bayou in 2007, connecting Lake Harris with Lake Griffin to improve water flow and allow improvements in lake level fluctuations
  • Treating soils on former muck farms to bind nutrients
  • Developing plans to change the ways that three dams are operated to restore more natural water-level fluctuations in basin lakes
  • Developing and implementing nutrient-loading reductions for basin lakes
  • Planting desirable vegetation to restore marshes and lake shores


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St. Johns River Water Management District
4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177
(800) 725-5922