FL TaxWatch calls for restoration of Ocklawaha River ecosystem

Report validates river allies long seeking breach of Rodman Dam

By: - February 15, 2022 3:45 pm

The Rodman Reservoir at sunrise. Florida TaxWatch recommends the Legislature appropriate $28.5 million to destroy the dam and restore the river’s natural flow. Credit: William Garrett via Wikimedia Commons

An environmental mistake that killed a river and drowned at least 20 natural freshwater springs in north-central Florida should be undone by Florida lawmakers, government watchdog Florida TaxWatch reported Tuesday in an analysis of the long-dammed Ocklawaha River.

The report – titled “A River (No Longer) Runs Through It” — says legislators should breach the Rodman Dam that has impounded the waters of the river for decades and partially restore the river’s natural flow, as authorized by state authorities 28 years ago. The river was dammed as part of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project, which was started in the 1960s but then permanently halted.

Restoring the flow of the river is expected to restore a large ecosystem from Silver Springs to the St. Johns River and revive the springs, according to environmental and governmental studies. The TaxWatch report says it also would be economically beneficial to adjacent counties and would protect downstream properties from being flooded should the aged dam fail.

“Given the public safety risks posed by dams, as well as the reasonable costs associated with the project and Florida’s favorable economic position, Florida TaxWatch supports the breaching of the dam and partial restoration of the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River, and we encourage lawmakers to appropriate funding to implement this recommendation,” said TaxWatch president and CEO Dominic Calabro in a news release about the report.

Cannon Springs, usually hidden beneath the reservoir created by the Rodman Dam, was revealed when the water was temporarily drawn down in 2019. Breaching the dam would uncover at least 20 springs. Credit: Joe Cruz

Ryan Smart, president of the Florida Springs Council, could not agree more.

“This is a super essential project for the St. Johns River and the springs,” Smart told the Phoenix.

“What strikes me as so notable is, you’ve got groups like the Florida Springs Council saying this is the most important and cost-effective environmental project in Florida, and you have groups like Florida TaxWatch, which is solely looking at the economics of it, saying this is the way to go. It’s good to see these voices coming together.”

Smart said periodic drawdowns of the reservoir created by the dam reveal the springs otherwise hidden by the impounded water.

“There are 20 lost Florida springs that are basically being drowned out by the dam, and if we were to breach the dam and partially restore the river, all those springs would come back to life,” Smart said.

“Now we just need legislators to get behind this common-sense project. I think they’re recognizing the reality that in Florida, protecting the environment is good business, and it’s better to do that through prevention rather than restoration,” Smart said.

Florida TaxWatch is a nonpartisan taxpayer research institute and government watchdog. The Florida Springs Council is a nonprofit coalition of more than 50 conservation organizations that advocate to protect Florida springs.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.