District Lands Assessment Implementation Plan overview
As part of its work to protect water resources, the St. Johns River Water Management District purchased land over the past 35 years that provides a variety of public and environmental benefits.
In December 2011, the district began a comprehensive evaluation of district-owned lands to examine whether the agency’s goals continue to be achieved. As part of the assessment process, staff evaluated every acre of property to examine the need for conservation purposes. The evaluation focused on determining if any properties, or portions of these tracts, should be identified as surplus lands, or if portions of any properties should be considered for alternative uses.
In December 2012, the district’s Governing Board approved a Lands Assessment Implementation Plan that called for:
- Retaining 569,779 acres, which represent 92 percent of district-owned lands
- Donating 25,091 acres to local governments and retaining conservation easements on those lands
- Selling 6,574 acres and retaining easements to protect the lands’ conservation values
- Surplusing to sell/exchange 3,591 acres that have lower conservation value, have land management issues, or are no longer needed for the original purpose of the acquisition
- Converting 13,388 acres to alternative uses, such as leases allowing for forestry activities or peat removal
The district is implementing the strategies outlined in the Implementation Plan, and working with a variety of stakeholders, such as nearby property owners, local governments and others. Some properties may be surplused and sold with conservation easements.
Under Florida law, water management districts are authorized to buy land for several purposes, including flood control, conservation and the protection of water resources. Some district-owned lands are project sites for water resource development or water control projects. Properties range from wetlands and historically wet areas to dry upland areas. Virtually all district properties are open to the public for passive recreation.
Some of the large tracts that the district has purchased with high conservation value have included some land with minimal water resource value or land that is in a condition or location that poses land management challenges. The district occasionally, though infrequently, may dispose of those less desirable sections rather than spend taxpayer funds to manage them.
During the agency’s lands assessment, district staff developed an evaluation matrix that was used to rank properties on their resource values, such as floodplains, strategic habitat, corridors and natural communities. The properties also were examined for their use as project sites, for recreation/public use and for their manageability.
The assessment examined:
- Significant conservation corridors or linkages
- Structural and non-structural flood protection
- Natural and cultural resources
- Public recreational opportunities, including hunting
- Multiple uses (silviculture, agriculture, water supply, water resource development, recreation or stormwater management)
Additional factors considered included whether a property is under joint ownership, encumbered, or bound by conditions related to its funding source. Funding for the district’s land acquisition program has come largely from the state’s Florida Forever and predecessor programs and through partnerships with state and local governments. Less than 5 percent of acquisition funds have come from property taxes.
Revenue gained from any conservation property identified as surplus and subsequently sold can only be used for land acquisition. Funding cannot be redirected to any other aspect of the district’s budget. Additionally, the sale prices must be equal to or greater than a property’s current appraised value, regardless of the price paid when the district acquired it.