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St. Johns River - The River Returns Documentary

View the trailer from the high definition film documentary "Water's Journey: The River Returns."

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Discover Florida's Freshwater Springs

Image of Ichetucknee Spring near Ft. White is one of many springs that contribute to the Suwannee River's flow.

Florida is blessed with one of the largest concentrations of freshwater springs in the world. These amazing ecosystems provide habitat for manatees and many other unique species as well as recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. They also provide a unique glimpse into the health of our aquifer.

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Learn About Your Watershed

Middle St. Johns River Watershed

Image of A houseboat crosses the bay-sized Lake George on the St. Johns River.
A houseboat crosses the bay-sized Lake George on the St. Johns River. Russell Sparkman

Watershed Stats

Size of Basin: Approximately 2,037 square miles.

Major Cities and Towns: Orlando, DeLand, Altamonte Springs, Maitland, Sanford, Casselberry, Oviedo, Winter Park, Pierson, Apopka, Orange City, Winter Springs, Longwood, Eatonville, Lake Helen, Ocoee, and Lake Mary

Counties: Most of the watershed lies within Lake, Seminole, and Volusia Counties, and smaller areas lie within Orange, Osceola, Marion, and Putnam Counties

Major Water Features:
Rivers & Streams: St. Johns River, Salt Springs Run, Ninemile Creek, Seminole Creek, Alexander Springs Creek, Juniper Creek, Deep Creek, Econlockhatchee River, Little Econlockhatchee River, Wekiva River, Little Wekiva River, Mills Creek, Gee Creek, and Rock Springs Run

Lakes: Lake Helen, Lake Norris, Konomac Lake, Scoggin Lake, Lake Dorr, Lake George, Lake Jesup, Lake Kerr, Lake Monroe, Lake Woodruff, and Lake Sylvan

Springs: Salt, Silver Glen, Sweetwater, Fern Hammock, Juniper, Ponce De Leon, Alexander, Blue, Seminole, Island, Messant, Green, Droty, Rock, Wekiva, Sulphur, Palm, Starbuck, Sanlando, Clifton, Miami, Gemini, Withering, Barrel, Forest, Mud, and Croaker Hole

Swamps: Wekiva, Black Cypress, Blackwater, and Bee Tree

Overview

Image of Much of the Middle St. Johns River basin is bordered on the west by the 389,000-acre Ocala National Forest, permanently providing protection from development in the watershed and making it one of the most popular bass fishing destinations in the state.
Much of the Middle St. Johns River basin is bordered on the west by the 389,000-acre Ocala National Forest, permanently providing protection from development in the watershed and making it one of the most popular bass fishing destinations in the state. © Russell Sparkman

The Middle St. Johns watershed encompasses about 2,037 square miles of central Florida, including the St. Johns River and the land that drains to it from the confluence of the Ocklawaha River near Welaka south and through Lake Harney. The St. Johns River flows from south to north for about 300 miles from its headwaters in marshes in St. Lucie County to the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville. Lakes Harney, Monroe, and George are wide spots in the St. Johns that have many of the characteristics of lakes. Because the St. Johns has a low gradient, averaging about one-tenth of a foot per mile, tidal reversal may occur as far upstream as Lake Monroe, well over 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

There are nine major tributary watersheds in the basin, including the watersheds for Lakes Harney, Monroe, and George. These large waterbodies are part of and include the main stem of the St. Johns River. The other tributary watersheds are, from south to north, the Econlockhatchee River, Lake Jesup, Deep Creek, Wekiva River, Lake Kerr, and Alexander Springs.

Image of Striped bass school in Silver Glen Spring, a first magnitude spring that flows into the St. Johns River. Springs contribute to much of the river's flow along its length.
Striped bass school in Silver Glen Spring, a first magnitude spring that flows into the St. Johns River. Springs contribute to much of the river's flow along its length. Russell Sparkman

Surface waters, including lakes, streams, wetlands, and springs, occupy almost 690 square miles, or about 34 percent of the total basin area. Large wetland systems are found around Lakes Woodruff, Jesup, and Monroe and the stretches of the St. Johns River between lakes. Stream types found in the basin range from blackwater to spring-fed runs.

The St. Johns River was considered one of Florida's first major tourist attractions for vacationers from northern states.

Springs are an important component of the basin's water resources, with an estimated 30 or more springs present. The most notable spring-fed river in the Middle St. Johns Basin is the Wekiva River, which starts as a discharge from Wekiwa Springs and enters the St. Johns just north of Lake Monroe. Alexander Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and Blue Spring are classified as first-magnitude springs, which have an average flow of 100 cubic feet per second or greater. Croaker Hole Spring, in the bed of Little Lake George in the St. Johns River, provides a thermal refuge for striped bass. Other springs along the St. Johns provide warm water refuges for manatees during the winter.

Image of Blue Springs is a major habitat for manatees providing shelter when the St. Johns River water temperatures drop during the winter.
Blue Springs is a major habitat for manatees providing shelter when the St. Johns River water temperatures drop during the winter. Russell Sparkman

Orlando, the largest city in the watershed, and the Interstate 4 corridor are located in the southern halfof the watershed. In comparison, the northern portion of the basin around Lake George is forested and rural. Primary agricultural activities include improved pasture and field crops, with some citrus, silviculture, and ferneries. Pine plantation and forest regeneration land uses occupy about 15 percent of the basin. The larger and better known public lands include the Ocala National Forest, Wekiwa Springs State Park, Rock Springs Run State Reserve, Seminole State Forest, Blue Spring State Park, and Lake George State Forest and Conservation Area.

Human Impacts

The State Road 46 bridge and causeway constrict the single outlet connecting Lake Jesup to the St. Johns River, limiting the lake's water circulation. Urban stormwater from Orlando, Winter Park, Casselberry, and Maitland and agricultural runoff from adjacent farms have also contributed to the lake's degradation. Although wastewater discharges to the lake were stopped in 1983, a thick layer of nutrient-rich "muck" up to nine feet deep lies on the lake's bottom. Lake George, which is large and shallow, is moderately eutrophic, receiving nutrients from both human and natural sources. It periodically has algal blooms. The lake is especially vulnerable because the river water slows as it drains into the lake, increasing the retention time of the water. High levels of phosphorus from lawn and farming chemicals and wastewater plant discharges have led to Lake Monroe's decline. Stormwater runoff from developed areas that occurred prior to stormwater regulations also degraded water quality. Significant development along the Interstate 4 corridor and in the cities of Sanford, Lake Mary, DeBary, and Deltona continues to affect the area's wetlands and waterways.

Image of Development along the banks of the St. Johns contributes to diminished water quality due to stormwater runoff carrying polluting fertilizers as well as wastes from faulty septic systems.
Development along the banks of the St. Johns contributes to diminished water quality due to stormwater runoff carrying polluting fertilizers as well as wastes from faulty septic systems.

Much of the area surrounding the Wekiva River was developed prior to the implementation of stormwater management requirements. Development has caused increases in stormwater flow rates and volumes, erosion of the riverbank and bed, build-up of sediment, and increases in the amount of pollutants going into the river.

The Little Econ River, a tributary of the Econlockhatchee, faces many water quality and quantity challenges due to development, much of which occurred prior to modern stormwater management rules. During the 1970s, more than eight million gallons of treated wastewater were pumped into the river each day. Much of the natural floodplain was filled and paved, and many miles of the river were channelized, creating a network of ditches that carries runoff swiftly from metropolitan Orlando. Untreated stormwater continues to degrade the Econ River today. In addition, the combination of poorly drained soils, flat terrain, and densely packed development in the basin has created flooding concerns.

Future growth is expected in and around DeLand, and development pressure from the growth of Orlando will continue to affect lands along the Wekiva and Econlockhatchee Rivers and around Lake Jesup. Increased commercial and industrial development is also anticipated along the Interstate 4 corridor.

In recognition of these impacts, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality and quantity in the Middle St. Johns Basin.

Interesting Facts:

  • The St. Johns River is an ancient intracoastal lagoon system. As sea levels dropped, barrier islands prevented water from flowing east to the ocean. The water collected in the flat valley and slowly meandered northward, forming the St. Johns.
  • The St. Johns is one of the few major rivers in the nation that flows north.
  • In the 1860s, numerous steamboats traveled the St. Johns River, which was considered one of Florida's first major tourist attractions for vacationing Northerners. Prior to the arrival of railroads, the river was the state's first "highway," enabling homesteaders to move into central Florida.
  • In 1884, Mrs. W.F. Fuller brought exotic water hyacinths from the New Orleans Cotton Exposition to her riverside home, where they quickly overran her garden pond. She tossed excess plants into the river and within a decade the hyacinth became a "lovely plague" of purple-blossomed floating mats impeding navigation on the river. Today, millions of dollars are spent to control this highly invasive plant.
  • In 1998 the St. Johns was designated an American Heritage River by President Bill Clinton, the only Florida river to receive this prestigious national recognition and one of only 14 rivers so recognized throughout the country.
  • In 1992, the Econlockhatchee River was designated as a "Special Waters" Outstanding Florida Water (OFW) because of its exceptional recreational and ecological significance.
  • The Wekiva River is designated as an OFW and Aquatic Preserve. It is also one of only two Florida rivers to receive the federal designation of Wild and Scenic River.
  • The Wekiva River is a major black bear corridor to the Ocala National Forest.
  • One of the largest concentrations of bald eagles statewide is found around Lake George.
  • Blue Spring State Park serves as the largest natural wintertime habitat on Florida's east coast for the West Indian manatee.
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