The St. Johns River Water Management District implements a wide variety of projects — many with partners — aimed at protecting water supplies, improving water quality and restoring natural systems, as well as providing flood protection in an 18-county jurisdiction in northeast and east-central Florida.

The projects described on this page — undertaken to fulfill its core missions — are broken into district-led restoration and construction projects, springs protection projects, and districtwide and agricultural cost-share projects.

Agricultural cost-share projects

The district assists farmers in protecting water resources through its cost-share funding program and by providing technical assistance through its Ag Assistance Team. The Ag Team centralizes help in gathering water use data needed for permits, reducing duplication in the permitting process, thus saving farmers time and money. Through the Tri-County Agricultural Area Water Management Partnership, cost-share projects largely focus on implementing improved fertilizer and irrigation practices on farms to reduce fertilizer-laden farm runoff from reaching the St. Johns River and other waterways in Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties.

Quality Trees and Shrubs

Quality Trees and Shrubs in Umatilla, Lake County, grows containerized ornamental landscape materials and has historically used groundwater for all of its irrigation needs. The farm recently completed a project to collect rainwater off of their greenhouse roof along with sheet flow from their propagation area. that water is diverted to a newly constructed pond, allowing them to replace some of their groundwater use with surface water. It is estimated that the improvements will make available 0.116 million gallons per day (mgd) of surface water and reduce offsite annual nutrient loading of total nitrogen (TN) by 39 pounds and total phosphorus (TP) by 4 pounds. This project benefits the Upper Ocklawaha River.

Small pond
Nursey and sand hill cranes
Water pump in a shed
pipes off of greenhouse

Brown Farm

Roy Brown has been managing a 250-acre generational family farm in Alachua County for more than 30 years with a focus on sustainability. Brown’s Farm operates a roadside stand off State Road 26 in Orange Heights, growing pecans and a variety of fruits and vegetables. In six projects using cost-share funding assistance from the District between 2016 and 2020, Brown has been actively converting his vegetable production from less-efficient irrigation systems such as self-propelled volume guns to center pivots with drop nozzles and low-pressure spray nozzles. He has also added soil moisture sensors and weather stations. It is estimated that he is now conserving almost 10 million gallons per year (9.85 mgy) with the new systems. In addition, he has been converting to precision fertilizer application equipment, which allows him to not only reduce the amount of fertilizer he uses, but also place the fertilizer more precisely so that the roots are better able to make use of the nutrients. These changes will result in an estimated annual offsite nutrient loading reduction of 6,325 pounds of TN and 3,173 pounds of TP. The latest cost-share project was completed in 2020.

A small bunch or tied black cables
Rows of purple cabbages planted on a farm
Repining strawberries on a farm

Estes Groves Inc.

Citrus greening disease is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid and has been wreaking havoc on the state’s citrus industry. While researchers work to find a cure, growers are learning to manage their groves by optimizing tree root health. Cody Estes with Estes Groves Inc. manages 120 acres of citrus south of State Road 60 in Vero Beach. He has partnered with the district to fine-tune his irrigation system by installing soil moisture sensors, weather stations and pump automation. With pump automation, the grower develops a general control strategy outlining the conditions under which irrigation should start and stop. The controllers receive feedback from the sensors, make decisions based on settings and start and stop the pump accordingly. Mr. Estes can check on his system from his phone even if he is miles away. District staff estimate a 19 percent reduction in water use over his already efficient micro-irrigation system.

Phone screen with Condition data on it
Large motor
Row of shrubs


Cherrylake, a tree farm in Lake County, recently completed a project to change out sprinklers on 694 acres of containerized trees and shrubs. Cherrylake continually evaluates how their work affects the quality of our air, land and water and was awarded the Commissioner of Agriculture’s Environmental Leadership award in 2016. Even with improvements, they recognized that their irrigation system didn’t account for harvesting of individual trees within an irrigation zone because there was no way to shut off individual emitters. This would result in irrigation water being applied to the ground after the tree was removed. In addition, the emitters would sometimes spray outside of the container. With the assistance of the districtwide Agricultural Cost-Share Program, Cherrylake retrofit the system with a “spot spitter” stake and emitter combination assembly that provides a shutoff position. Based on a Mobile Irrigation Lab evaluation performed in January 2018, conservation is expected to be almost 25 million gallons of water per year.

Young Trees planted in containers
Close-up of a young tree being misted

C.P. and Wesley Smith Inc. Farms

C.P. and Wesley Smith Inc. Farms in Hastings grows potatoes, broccoli and corn on approximately 1,500 acres. The farm, along with most other farms in the area, had historically been irrigated with seepage. Wesley and his sons have been converting their farm from the less-efficient seepage to more-efficient irrigation methods such as center pivot and sub-irrigation drain tile. They have seen reductions in irrigation of roughly 50 percent and increases in crop yields. They have received assistance from the Tri-County Agricultural Area Water Management Partnership as well as USDA/NRCS and are taking advantage of every opportunity to become more efficient. They have also purchased banding equipment, which dramatically reduces the amount of fertilizer being applied to the land.

Workers putting down pipes in a trench
Young broccoli plants

Black Creek Water Resource Development project

Updated on 9-27-2023

The primary goal of the Black Creek Water Resource Development Project is to increase recharge to the Upper Floridan aquifer in northeast Florida using excess flow from Black Creek, in Clay County.

The project is among several identified in the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (NFRWSP) to help meet future water supply demands while protecting natural resources. This project, which will be built in southwest Clay County between Penney Farms and Camp Blanding, focuses on providing recharge to the Upper Floridan aquifer in the Keystone Heights region and Lower Santa Fe basin.

The project will divert up to 10 million gallons per day from the South Fork of Black Creek during wet weather high flow periods. Diversions will only be made when there is sufficient flow available to ensure the protection of natural resources within the creek. The water will be pumped through a transmission system before being treated for color and nutrients prior to discharge into Alligator Creek. Alligator Creek flows into Lake Brooklyn, which will increase recharge to the Upper Floridan aquifer through the lake bottom.

The project is also expected to contribute to regional minimum flows and levels (MFLs) recovery and may help improve water levels in lakes and the Alligator Creek system, including drought-stressed lakes Brooklyn and Geneva. Restoration of the lakes is a secondary benefit of the project.

The current cost estimate for the construction of the system, including the pump station, pipeline and treatment system, is approximately $100 million. Funding for the project was provided in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake Region Projects legislative appropriations over three years beginning in 2017. The total appropriation was more than $48 million, of which nearly $43.4 million was allocated to the Black Creek project. Additionally, north Florida utilities are contributing $19.2 million toward the project. Those utilities include Clay County Utility Authority, Gainesville Regional Utilities, St. Johns County Utilities, and JEA. The remaining balance will be provided from District funds. The appropriation was championed by Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island (who currently serves as the District’s Governing Board Chairman), Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka, and Rep. Travis Cummings from Orange Park.

Group of people standing in front of a large banner

Members of the Save Our Lakes Organization celebrate with District Governing Board Chair Rob Bradley and Executive Director Mike Register at an Oct. 21, 2022, construction kickoff event.

Group of people standing in front of a large banner

Black Creek project event, March 26, 2021

Dr. Shortelle at the Black Creek Water Resource Development kickoff event in 2017

Kickoff event, March 2017

Map of the black creek project area

Frequently asked questions

We are committed to keeping the public informed as the project progresses.  To be added to the project information distribution list, please email with the subject line Black Creek.

How will the project impact salinity concentrations in Black Creek?
Potential salinity changes would be the equivalent of 1/16th of a teaspoon in a gallon of water.

These small changes in salinity would result in unnoticeable shifts in wetland communities both in Black Creek and the St. Johns River.

The point at which saltwater meets freshwater potentially could move by up to 250 feet as a result of this project, which is equivalent to less than the length of a football field.

Will the project reduce the flow of water in Black Creek?
Not significantly. In fact, at low flows, or approximately 25 percent of the time, there will be no withdrawals from Black Creek in order to be protective of the natural systems in the Creek.

When flow levels are average or above average, no more than 10 million gallons a day will be diverted for aquifer recharge. That’s no more than 4% of the total flow in Black Creek.

The maximum pumping of 10 million gallons a day will have little to no impact on the environment, according to a preliminary environmental assessment.

What is the project’s effect on Black Creek’s water quality?
This project will have little to no impact on water quality.

Water quality in Black Creek is generally good and this project will not change that.

What studies have been conducted to guide the project and reassure the public?
The District conducted a preliminary assessment that shows that the proposed quantity of surface water may be safely diverted from Black Creek with little to no environmental effects. You can find the Black Creek Water Resource Development Assessment report above.

A detailed alternative treatment analysis to reduce color in the Black Creek water to match the water in Lake Brooklyn was conducted. This analysis looked at potential treatment alternatives using several technologies, including coagulation, oxidation, adsorption, ion exchange, membranes, and biological processes. Over 30 treatment alternatives were evaluated based on their ability to treat for color as well as other concerns such as general capital costs, residuals management, storage of chemicals, and footprint and accessibility required for construction and operation. The analysis concluded a passive treatment system met the color reduction levels required, is the most cost effective, will blend in well with the natural environment at Camp Blanding and will minimize any accessibility concerns on base.

Additional evaluations will occur as permitting, design and engineering move forward.

Has pumping already begun at Black Creek?
No, the project is in permitting phase. Final design changes, if any, will be made when the permitting phase is complete.

Are there concerns that EZ Base could contaminate the project site or Black Creek itself?
No, the area where EZ Base concerns exist near Camp Blanding are not geographically near the Black Creek Project application site or recharge areas.

For additional information about EZ Base, please reach out to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Northeast District Ombudsman, Russell Simpson, at 904-256-1653.

How is this project beneficial and to whom?
The project is among several identified in the 2017 NFRWSP to help meet future water supply demands across the region while protecting natural resources.

The project will recharge the Upper Floridan aquifer in northeast Florida, helping to sustain or recover established MFLs in the region while also benefitting water users.

While the project may help improve water levels in lakes in Keystone Heights and throughout the Alligator Creek system, including drought-stressed lakes Brooklyn and Geneva, its purpose is to recharge the Upper Floridan aquifer and is expected to benefit MFLs in the region.

When did the public learn about this project?
This project has been discussed broadly with the public since May 2013.

The Black Creek project is part of the 2017 NFRWSP, which was developed through a highly collaborative process among the Suwannee River and St. Johns River water management districts and FDEP, local governments, public supply utilities, environmental advocates and other stakeholders.

Over four years, the NFRWSP planning process included 36 Stakeholder Advisory Committee meetings, more than 50 other stakeholder meetings and two public workshops to engage stakeholders to understand their individual perspectives as related to water resource issues in north Florida.

The District will continue to hold public meetings as the project progresses to keep the public informed.

How are you keeping the public informed about the Black Creek project?
This webpage is dedicated to the Black Creek Project. We also continue to share project progress and updates through our District Facebook and Twitter pages, @sjrwmd.

Achieved milestones

  • September 2022 — District Governing Board approves contract to construct pipeline
  • July 2022 — District Governing Board approves contract to begin construction of the intake and pump station
  • May 2022 — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) 404 permit issued
  • February 2022 — Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) NPDES permit issued
  • March 2022 — FDEP Individual Environmental Resource permit issued
  • January 2021 — Pilot study initiated of passive treatment system
  • December 2020 — Evaluation of treatment alternatives completed
  • October 2018 — Florida Department of Transportation permit issued
  • June 2018 — Application submitted to USACE
  • 2018 — Completed topographic survey, geotechnical report, archeological study, endangered species report and acquired land and easements for the project

Project schedule

July 2017

District Governing Board approved the design contractor ranking, authorization of final contract execution and associated budget transfers

FY 2018

  • Design and engineering
  • Land acquisition

FY 2019

  • Permitting

FY 2020

  • Evaluation of treatment alternatives
  • Permitting

FY 2021

  • Pilot study for source water (Black Creek) treatability
  • Design completion
  • Submit permit application

FY 2022

  • Finalize permitting
  • Construction bid
  • Begin construction

Cost-share projects

Updated on 1-18-2023

The district’s ongoing cost-sharing program works with local governments, utilities, the agricultural community, and other stakeholders to share in construction costs for projects that support one of the district’s core missions. By partnering with local governments and water suppliers, we are stretching taxpayer dollars further for construction projects that are producing real results in water resource protection.

Since the 2013–2014 fiscal year, the district has awarded more than $315 million in cost-share funding toward projects with total construction costs of nearly $846 million. Through these projects, estimated benefits include 136 million gallons per day (mgd) of alternative water supply developed, 37 million gallons (MG) of alternative water storage capacity, 24 mgd of water conserved, nearly 1.8 million lbs/yr total nitrogen reduction; over 450,000 lbs/yr reduction in total phosphorus, over 5,000 acres protected from flooding, 66 acres of uplands improved, and 20 acres of wetlands improved.

We are proud to partner with the communities throughout the district and the 646 projects that have been completed since October 1, 2016.

Brevard Zoo Clam Restoration
(FY 2021 Indian River Lagoon Water Quality Grant, cost-share amount is $1,031,021, estimated project cost is $1,121,697, In Progress)

The research project involves adult clams and seed clams grown, planted and monitored throughout portions of the Southern Mosquito Lagoon, Northern Indian River Lagoon, Central Indian River Lagoon, and Banana River, in approximately 100 distinct sites that vary in size.

Orange County Wekiwa Springs Septic Tank Retrofit Project: Phase 2
(FY 2022 Districtwide, cost-share amount is $1,721,784, estimated construction cost is $6,887,135, Upcoming)

This project, Phase 2, is part of a multi-phase program, ultimately converting 1,453 septic tanks to sewer systems in 16 neighborhoods within the Wekiwa Springshed. Once constructed, the completed, multi-year project is estimated to reduce the amount of nutrients introduced into the groundwater in the Wekiwa springshed by over 14,000 pounds of nitrogen per year through the diversion of wastewater to a central sewer system. Phase 2 of the septic-to-sewer conversion involves the installation of sewer laterals, sewer connections, septic tank abandonment, sanitary sewer main, and lift stations for 154 parcels in the Palms 1 and 2 neighborhoods. The total estimated nutrient load reduction water quality benefit to Wekiwa-Rock springshed is 1,601 lbs/yr TN for Phase 2.

Ocala Lower Floridan Aquifer Conversion Phase 3
(FY 2022 Districtwide, cost-share amount is $2,205,700, estimated construction cost is $4,411,400, Upcoming)

This is phase 3 of a multi-phase Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Springs project that includes the construction of three Lower Floridan aquifer (LFA) production wells with storage and treatment capacity at Ocala’s Water Treatment Plant #2. The estimated total project alternative water supply (AWS) benefit is 7.5 mgd with secondary natural systems benefit of 6.9 cfs at Silver Springs. This phase of the project includes the construction of two 1 MG storage tanks and an Upper Floridan aquifer well for blending. The AWS benefits associated with this phase of the project is 0.6 mgd.

Two men standing next two black pumps

DeLand Alabama Avenue Reclaimed Water Main Extension
(FY 2022 Districtwide, cost-share amount is $215,133, estimated construction cost is $860,530, In Progress)

The project includes the installation of 4,800 linear feet of reclaimed water main within Volusia Blue Springs springshed. The estimated water supply benefit is providing 0.175 mgd of reclaimed water.

Large sewage pipes laying next to a road
Large pipe being fitted together

Crane Creek / M-1 Canal flow restoration project

Updated on 9-26-2023

The M-1 Canal is a 100-year-old, man-made flood control feature in Brevard County that cuts through the historic drainage divide between the St. Johns River and the Indian River Lagoon.

The M-1 Canal diverts stormwater flow from 5,300 acres of drainage area in Melbourne, West Melbourne, Melbourne Village and portions of unincorporated Brevard County and sends the water east to the Indian River Lagoon via Crane Creek. Nutrients within runoff from this currently diverted watershed degrade water quality in the Indian River Lagoon and provide fuel for algal blooms.

The Crane Creek / M-1 Canal Project — identified in the 2017 Indian River Lagoon Stormwater Capture and Treatment Feasibility Analysis and led by the St. Johns River Water Management District — will substantially reduce nutrient loading  to the Indian River Lagoon. Construction of the project will result in restoring the baseflow in the M-1 Canal westward for treatment in a constructed stormwater treatment area prior to discharging to the St. Johns River Basin.

Project components include an operable weir east of Evans Road, two pump stations, two pipeline force mains and a stormwater treatment area west of Interstate 95. The operable weir – which allows capture of runoff for the east pump station – is engineered to have no impact on the existing flood control capability of the M-1 Canal.

This project reduces nutrient loadings to the Indian River Lagoon while also providing an alternative water supply source to downstream users by restoring 7 million gallons of freshwater flow per day to the St. Johns River.

Nutrient load reduction estimates to the Indian River Lagoon are:

  • Total nitrogen 24,000 lb./yr.
  • Total phosphorus 3,100 lb./yr.
Dock at Crane Creek
Map of M-1 Canal

Project schedule

July 2017

  • Engineering design start

FY 2018

  • Hydraulic and hydrologic modeling
  • Engineering design
  • Land acquisition

FY 2019–2022

  • Completion of land acquisition
  • Engineering design
  • Permitting

FY 2023–2025

  • Construction

Project milestones

  • Hydraulic and hydrologic modeling is completed
  • Design is completed
  • Governing Board approved execution of construction contract (January 2023)
  • Construction has begun

Project partners

  • Brevard County ($2.03 million funding contribution)
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection ($2.45 million funding contribution)
  • Federal sources administered through Florida Department of Environmental Protection ($4.5 million funding contribution)
  • St. Johns River Water Management District (approx. $14–15 million)
  • Contact:


When is the project slated to begin and when will it be completed?
The construction phase of this project is scheduled to begin in spring 2023. The anticipated completion date is January 2025.

Reversing some of the flow in M-1 Canal and sending stormwater west to the St. Johns River will help the Indian River Lagoon, but how will the stormwater be cleaned before it reaches the St. Johns River?
Water from the M-1 Canal will be pumped under Interstate 95 and Heritage Parkway to a stormwater treatment area (STA). The STA provides treatment for the water which is then pumped into a pipeline that will be constructed along the Heritage Parkway and the U.S. Highway 192 corridor. The pipeline will discharge to District-owned marsh land adjacent to the St. Johns River, and ultimately the St. Johns River.

Will construction impact local traffic, especially in nearby neighborhoods?
Construction of this project will have no impact on local traffic.

Will the installation of the weir at the M-1 Canal contribute to flooding in nearby neighborhoods already prone to flooding during storm events?
This project will have no adverse impact on the existing stormwater system. Flood protection is a priority and has been carefully analyzed and modeled. The system is designed so that the proposed weir can be lowered (open position) in the event of a major oncoming rainfall event (such as a hurricane or tropical storm). Redundant automatic sensors in the canal will also lower the weirs if the water in the canal reaches certain elevations. The system is continually monitored by operations staff to ensure it is functioning properly. Additional analysis has been performed to ensure that even if the weir is left in the up position, flood protections will remain unchanged. This is possible because the M-1 Canal will be widened over the weir to maintain current flow capacity.

Does the additional water benefit the river?
The additional water will benefit the St. Johns River by restoring historic baseflow from the watershed that was diverted from the St. Johns River to the Indian River Lagoon.

Who do I call or email if I have additional questions?
If you have questions about this project, please email or call Marc Van Heden at 321-676-6604.

Doctors Lake restoration projects

Updated on 6-14-2022

Located in Clay County adjacent to the west bank of the St. Johns River, the Doctors Lake Basin covers approximately 23 square miles. The basin’s former agricultural and forested lands now support medium and high-density residential areas and commercial properties.

Doctors Lake has experienced water quality issues due to nutrient loading from stormwater runoff and other non-point sources such as septic tank effluent. Because of its narrow connection with the St. Johns River, the 3,400-acre lake has poor circulation and nutrients tend to concentrate in the lake.

Contributing nutrient-loading factors include:

  • Basin population of 35,000 (2000 Census)
  • 12,000-plus housing units
  • 847 units on septic tanks

During the 2018 legislative session, then-Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, Senate Budget Chairman, and Rep Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, secured specific funding during the budget process for the St. Johns River to implement water resources projects that will help improve water quality in the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights Lake Region, as well as improving public access and recreation projects within the St. Johns River Water Management District.

With then-Gov. Rick Scott’s support and approval of the budget, the St. Johns River Water Management District, Clay County and Clay County Utility Authority (CCUA) partnered to identify potential projects in the area.

Identified projects and status are:

The Doctors Lake Enhanced Effluent Treatment Project is an innovative technology project currently removing phosphorus from wastewater effluent. The project is capable of treating an estimated 1.6 million gallons per day on an annual average basis. This project has removed over 4,000 pounds of total phosphorus since starting operation. The project is completed and continues operation.

Septic-to-sewer projects extending the CCUA infrastructure to serve lakeside neighborhoods currently on residential septic systems. Total nitrogen will be reduced by an estimated 1,500 pounds per year when approximately 80 homes are converted to central sewer. Under an agreement approved by the District’s Governing Board in January 2020, the project is proceeding with the required minimum participation of at least 50 percent of eligible homeowners. CCUA and the District kicked off the project Sept. 9, 2021. The project is expected to complete by the end of 2022.

Map of the Doctors Lake restoration projects
St. Johns River Water Management District logo
Clay County Utility Authority logo
Clay County seal
Dr. Ann Shortelle speaking at a Doctors Lake event
Dr. Ann Shortelle spoke at an event Aug. 15, 2018, hosted by Sen. Rob Bradley (right) to announce legislative funding for water quality projects to benefit Doctors Lake. The funding was championed by Sen. Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings (left) in the FY 2018 legislative session.

Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area 5 Peat Removal Project

The Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area (EMCA) is made up of seven wetland marsh areas. Beginning in the 1940s, the marshes were drained, and the exposed muck soils were used for row-crop agriculture and cattle grazing. Due to these agricultural practices the exposed wetland soils oxidized and subsided. The soils within the conservation area were also subject to fertilizer and pesticide applications during farming operations.

The St. Johns River Water Management District acquired the EMCA properties through the Save our Rivers and Preservation 2000 programs in the 1990s. After years of restoration efforts to address high phosphorus levels in the water within the EMCA, five of the EMCA wetland areas have been connected either directly or indirectly to Lake Griffin. The District’s goal is to reconnect Area 5 as well. Some of the benefits to reconnecting to the lake include improved hydrology, and recreational access for fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing, including the District’s EMCA wildlife drive.

The peat soils present in EMCA Area 5 have naturally high phosphorus concentrations that were enriched by past agricultural practices. Compliance with the total maximum daily load (TMDL) limitations for Lake Griffin and the high phosphorus present in EMCA Area 5 prevent reconnection to Lake Griffin. Additionally, specific water/soil conditions present in EMCA Area 5 prevent the use of traditional phosphorus control methods such as alum. Because of this, the District has considered alternative methods for phosphorus control, including peat removal.

The peat removal project was initially considered in the 2012 District Lands Assessment Implementation Plan and approved by the District Governing Board in 2013. In 2016, the District entered into a lease agreement with Sun Gro Horticulture Excavation and Processing LLC, which was amended in 2021 to reflect a name change to LJF FPS, LLC, doing business as Florida Potting Soils (FPS), to remove the peat deposits in EMCA Area 5 that contain high phosphorus levels. The goal is to lower the phosphorus levels so that EMCA Area 5 can be reconnected to Lake Griffin while complying with the TMDL. The project supports the goal of restoration for the hydrological and ecological functions of the Ocklawaha River floodplain by minimizing the nutrient discharge from the property to Lake Griffin and the Ocklawaha River Basin, as outlined in the 2016 Land Management Plan for the EMCA, which includes information on the restoration and enhancement of the property.

Project timeline


  • District Governing Board approved the Lands Assessment Implementation Plan, which outlined peat removal strategy for EMCA Area 5 high phosphorus.


  • District Governing Board approved project bid selection and associated lease


  • Lease agreement signed
  • District Governing Board approved a land management plan, which includes information on the restoration and enhancement of the property
  • DEP ERP General Permit issued for five years


  • District Governing Board approved lease amendment
  • DEP 404 permit issued


  • DEP ERP General Permit re-issued for five years
  • Internal levees under construction

Fall 2022

  • Peat removal and hauling started

Frequently asked questions

What are the environmental benefits of the project?
The project supports the goal of restoration for the hydrological and ecological functions of the Ocklawaha River floodplain by minimizing the nutrient discharge from the property to Lake Griffin and the Ocklawaha River Basin.

What are the details of the lease?
The project is a multi-year lease to Florida Potting Soils (FPS) for removal of an estimated 3,400,00 cubic yards (C.Y.) of peat in Emeralda Marsh Area 5. The District is receiving a royalty of $1/C.Y. of peat removed, with a minimum total royalty of $3,000,000 for the life of the project and a minimum annual royalty of $200,000. See Lease agreement and Lease amendment.

Where does the royalty money go?
The District entered into a five-year revenue sharing agreement, with renewals in one-year increments, on Jan. 9, 2018, with Lake County to use a portion of the project revenues to fund aquatic resource conservation, restoration, or recreation improvement projects within Lake County. See Revenue sharing agreement between Lake County and District.

How will the site be managed during peat removal?
The removal of peat will be divided into five phases of operation. This is shown on FPS Emeralda Marsh proposed cell configurations. The start for peat removal from Phase 1 is anticipated in spring 2022.

Does the project have environmental permits?
The project has received general permits from the state of for an environmental resource permit (ERP)  and a 404 permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Are pesticide levels of concern?
DEP has determined that the removal and use of peat in the manner proposed complies with DEP rules or standards. See DEP peat removal and use clearance letter.

Will there be environmental monitoring during the peat removal?
Yes, FPS is required to conduct environmental monitoring and implement a Field sampling plan and Fish kill response plan.

When will the project finish?
A 10-year lease is in place until March 15, 2031, with two five-year extensions possible.

What will happen to the property when the project is complete?
The newly constructed levees will be removed, and the property will be restored and managed as a mixture of open water and wetland upon completion of each construction phase.

How are you keeping the public informed about the project?
The District has this webpage where we keep updated, timely information on the project as well as project history.  We’ll continue to share project progress and updates through our District Facebook and Twitter pages, @sjrwmd.  We are committed to keeping the public informed as the project progresses. For additional information or with questions, please send an email to with the subject line EMCA Peat Removal.

Lake Apopka

Updated on 12-20-2022

Lake Apopka is the headwaters of the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes. The district and partners have worked since the 1980s to improve the lake’s water quality and habitat, achieving significant improvements.

For example, in 1994 there was no submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) in the lake. Partially due to the District’s restoration efforts, a 2019 survey found SAV around most of the lake’s perimeter and district staff have observed much of the SAV flowering. Flowering is important for two reasons: first it is an indicator of good plant health, and second the seeds produced provide for further natural expansion of these important plants. The return and continuing expansion of SAV indicates water quality and clarity are improving. In May 2018, Field and Stream Magazine recognized the area, highlighting impressive catches of bass and a resurgence of fishing tournaments in the area.

Lake Apopka’s water quality restoration has been based on a multipronged approach of diet and exercise. “Diet” has focused on reducing the amount of phosphorus entering the lake. The largest “diet” improvement occurred following the Legislature’s 1996 direction to the district to buy out the farms on the lake’s north shore. This area, formerly a floodplain marsh, was diked, drained and put into agricultural production in the 1940s. Phosphorus from these farms fueled the continuous algal bloom which shaded the lake’s vegetation and caused the bass fishery to collapse.

Key to reducing phosphorus loading from the North Shore was restoring the area’s wetlands to reduce the volume of nutrient laden water pumped to the lake. Now discharges can be treated to inactivate phosphorus and in 2003 the passage of the Lake Apopka Stormwater Rule enhanced the lake’s diet to the entire watershed.

“Exercise” is removal of phosphorus already in the lake, which has included harvest of rough fish (largely gizzard shad) from the lake and operating the marsh flow-way to continuously filter algae,  suspended solids and associated nutrients. The combined effect of the diet and exercise has been a dramatic improvement in water quality. Since the late 1980s, phosphorus concentrations have declined 71% and water clarity increased 55%, as of the end of 2021. The recovery of clearer water and return of sunlight to the lake’s bottom has caused the regrowth of submerged aquatic vegetation, missing for 50 years, and the critical bass habitat.

New district projects:

The District partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on a $5.7 million project to improve water quality by capturing lake sediments in a natural settling area (called a sump), dredged into the lake’s bottom to be periodically pumped to an area on the North Shore designed to hold the removed sediments. The sump was constructed just outside the entrance to the Apopka-Beauclair Canal in hopes of trapping sediments that might otherwise move toward Lake Beauclair.

Utilizing funding from the 2014 Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, the District has accelerated wetland restoration efforts on portions of the North Shore.

The District is working to accelerate the recovery of aquatic plants in Lake Apopka with a $1.5 million restoration effort that includes:

  • A collaboration with the University of Florida to improve underwater planting techniques and plant tens of thousands of aquatic plants throughout the lake.
  • Planting submerged aquatic plants like eelgrass and pondweed. This project is in partnership with Florida Department of Environmental Protection and will plant up to 240,000 plants in 48 acres of in Lake Apopka.
  • Planting 28,382 floating leaved plants like lilies and lotus to provide submerged habitat in more than 10 acres of the lake. This project is in partnership with Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
District contractors tossing native aquatic vegetation
District contractors Aquatech Eco Consultants plant native aquatic vegetation near the Lake Apopka shoreline as part of the ongoing restoration at the lake. Water quality has improved to support natural regrowth and these District-contracted plantings.

Ongoing projects:

  • North Shore Water and Phosphorus Management
  • In early 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concurred with the District’s site-wide biological assessment of pesticide concentrations on the Lake Apopka North Shore, thus enabling the District to begin implementing a broader management of water levels and wetland vegetation. The broader management flexibility will provide additional benefits to Lake Apopka by allowing more water to be stored on the North Shore.
  • Harvesting of gizzard shad has been an important factor in the water quality improvements, with more than one million pounds of shad removed annually. Since 1993, the shad removal equates to more than 231,000 pounds of phosphorus removed.
  • Operation of the Lake Apopka Marsh Flow-way since 2003 has resulted in 40 percent of the lake’s water volume having been filtered annually, to remove suspended solids, algae and associated nutrients.
    The District initiated a pay-for-performance project with Phosphorus Free Water Solutions that uses an innovative technology to remove phosphorus from the lake’s water. The project is in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
  • The District is implementing a series of infrastructure improvements on the Lake Apopka North Shore that will allow more water storage, increase water management flexibility and reduce nutrient inputs to Lake Apopka.
  • The District is partnering with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the following projects:
    • North Shore Interconnect — Constructing an internal pump to connect two major portions of the North Shore. The project estimate is $2 million.

Recently completed projects:

  • North Shore infrastructure improvements — Raising internal levee heights and construction of internal pumps. The project was completed in December 2020. The total project construction cost was $2.5 million.
  • Duda Water Storage Improvements — Raising internal levee heights and construction of hydraulic improvements to separate the Duda tract into four cells that can be independently managed. Construction was completed in August 2021. The total construction cost was $1.5 million.

Lake Jesup projects

Lake Jesup is a hydrologically complex system with a large, urbanized watershed and is the largest lake in Seminole County. The lake is shallow with a relatively low flushing rate that drains a 150-square-mile watershed, including portions of Oviedo, Sanford, Winter Park, Casselberry, Maitland, Longwood, Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, Eatonville, Winter Springs and Orlando in Seminole and Orange counties.

Local stakeholder interest in restoring the lake began in 1993 with the Friends of Lake Jesup. In 2002, the District’s Governing Board designated Lake Jesup as a priority basin for restoration of water quality and fish and wildlife habitats. In 2008, in conjunction with the Lake Jesup Interagency Management Strategy, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection adopted a total maximum daily load for total phosphorus followed by the Lake Jesup Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). As a result, progress is being made to reduce nutrient sources and concentrations to improve the lake’s water quality and clarity.

The St. Johns River Water Management District is currently conducting projects in the lake to improve its water quality, as follows.

Lake Jesup intact cellular algae harvesting with simultaneous nutrient export

  • This pilot project, conducted by AECOM, deployed a mobile algal harvesting unit that removed nitrogen and phosphorus through direct removal of the entire algae cell (known as intact cellular algae) and suspended solids located within the upper 12-inches of the water column in Lake Jesup. An innovative air flotation technology was utilized to attach microscopic air bubbles to the algae and sediment floc, creating buoyancy, to allow efficient separation of algal biomass and clarified water. Clarified water was returned to the lake while algal biomass were managed at Seminole County’s Yankee Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant. The harvesting unit was mounted on a barge and transported around Lake Jesup so that algae could be harvested at various locations.
  • The pilot project received $1.7 million, in 2020, through a Florida Department of Environmental Protection Harmful Algal Bloom Innovate Technology Project Grant solicitation requesting proposals from government entities to prevent, detect, cleanup, or otherwise address harmful algal blooms in Florida’s waterways. This was a direct result of the 2019 Blue-Green Algae Task Force, formed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • AECOM periodically operated the algae harvesting system over a nine-month period and completed system operations in May 2022. System decommissioning and removal from Lake Jesup was completed in November. The objective of this pilot project was to collect representative data to evaluate system efficiency and the cost effectiveness of a full-scale system that can help achieve the Lake Jesup Total Maximum Daily Load and Basin Management Action Plan goals.
  • See final report here.
Map showing a lake Jesup project
mobile algal harvesting platform
A mobile algal harvesting unit is mounted to a barge and is removing algae from Lake Jesup in a pilot project.

Water quality, flow restoration project costs

The District completed a feasibility study in 2014 evaluating the use of a wetland treatment system to treat pumped water inflow from Lake Jesup. The proposed project, which was expected to take about three to four years to complete (contingent on funding), will pump water from Lake Jesup into a treatment system made up of ponds and wetlands to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from the lake. This will also improve light penetration into the water column and encourage the growth of underwater plants. The proposed project was identified in the District’s long-range project plan and will be located on 1,169 acres of land that the District purchased in 1990 (the Little Cameron Ranch parcel).

In March 2018, the District’s Governing Board approved an additional feasibility evaluation to include a new component of the proposed project to restore the flow between the St. Johns River and the eastern portion of Lake Jesup. Hydrologic modifications to the confluence between the river and lake date back to the steamboat era of the late 1800s. In 2010, the Florida Department of Transportation completed a new 3,470-foot-long span bridge over the confluence and, in the process, removed the State Road 46 earthen causeway. This construction created an opportunity to restore the water flow that the causeway was blocking. The evaluation concluded that construction of a channel under the eastern span of the State Road 46 bridge, known as Channel C, would restore flow between the river and the lake. The proposed project will also focus on improving water clarity/quality and providing habitat enhancements by introducing additional water flow from the river.

In March 2020, the District’s Governing Board approved a contract with Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson, Inc. for the design and permitting of the Lake Jesup Nutrient Reduction and Flow Enhancement Project. The design and permitting will encompass both the wetland treatment system located on the Little Cameron Ranch property and Channel C flow restoration.  Completion of the design and permitting is anticipated by fall of 2023.

Project costs

  • Total construction: $20–25 million (est. at 60% design level)
  • Engineering: $1.1 million
  • Operation and maintenance: $250,000–$400,000/year


  • Estimated total phosphorus reduction: 2,800 lbs./yr.
  • Estimated total nitrogen reduction: 23,800 lbs./yr.
  • Estimated increase in area suitable for submerged aquatic vegetation: 200–500 acres

Project schedule

  • FY 2019–2020: Initiate design and permitting
  • FY 2020–2022: Ongoing design and permitting
  • FY 2022–2023:  Complete design and permitting
  • FY 2023–2024: Bidding and begin construction (contingent on funding)
Map of Lake Jesup with stars marking features locations
Palm trees silhouetted by a sunrise

Lake Jesup sediment phosphorus flux treatment evaluation project

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the District are collaborating on an evaluation of various chemical treatment technologies to reduce the flux of phosphorus from Lake Jesup’s sediments into the water column. The goal is to reduce the phosphorus concentration in the lake’s water to reduce algal bloom intensity, duration and frequency. The study will evaluate treatment efficiencies, phosphorus removal rates, cost efficiencies and determine which treatment technologies may reduce phosphorus flux rates in Lake Jesup to the greatest extent.

The phase 1 work examined a suite of treatment technologies in a controlled laboratory bench-scale study that were identified in the Request for Information by the District in 2017 and updated in 2020. Each technology was designed to reduce net phosphorus flux from the sediments to the water column. The results of the bench-scale study concluded that of the three treatment amendments, ViroPhos out-performed the other technologies and provided the most consistent level of phosphorus flux reduction. ViroPhos was also found to be the most cost-effective at reducing total phosphorus concentration.

Phase II work will evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment technology recommended in the bench study in outdoor mesocosms to assess potential limitations of the selected technology in more realistic and complex in-lake conditions. The District solicited for Phase II work, scoring and ranking companies based on project qualifications and evaluation criteria. The Governing Board awarded the contract in November 2022 to Wood Environmental.

Wood Environmental will begin a series of sediment sampling in Lake Jesup this spring, after which District staff will review and analyze the data and determine the most optimal placements for the mesocosums. The mesocosums will then be deployed sometime in the summer of 2022.