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Water bodies, watersheds and storm water

History of the Upper St. Johns River Basin and the upper basin project

Structure at Canal 54

The structure at Canal 54 was one of the earliest components of the upper basin project.

The Upper St. Johns River Basin once contained more than 400,000 acres of fertile marsh. Agricultural interests saw the value of the rich peat soils beneath the water and drained thousands of acres of the river’s headwaters to create farmlands.

Devastating hurricanes in the 1920s and 1940s demonstrated the need for improved flood protection for the region. In response to flooding problems, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began planning a flood control project in the basin in the 1950s. The original upper basin project involved a series of flood storage reservoirs west of the St. Johns River, in Osceola and Orange counties. The project also included a network of canals to divert excess floodwaters from the upper St. Johns to the Indian River Lagoon. The largest of these canals is known as Canal 54.

Portions of this flood control project, including C-54, were constructed by 1973. C-54 was originally designed to divert up to 6,000 cubic feet per second of water from the St. Johns River to the Indian River. Environmental studies found that this diversion of freshwater would significantly reduce the population of shellfish in the Indian River, harming the commercial shell fishing industry. In addition, the large volume of freshwater diversion would cause big swings in the salinity of the lagoon, impacting other fish and wildlife resources in that water body. The loss of freshwater in the St. Johns River was found to adversely impact wildlife and threatened the use of the river for public water supply. Construction of the federal flood control project was halted in 1973 by President Richard Nixon.

The St. Johns River Water Management District took over the project in 1977 and worked with the Corps to design and build what is today’s Upper St. Johns River Basin Project. The project mimics nature by storing water in restored marshes rather than move it eastward through the C-54 to the lagoon.


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St. Johns River Water Management District
4049 Reid Street, Palatka, FL 32177
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