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The Story of Water in Florida

Water is Florida's lifeblood. It is fickle. Abundant one year. Scarce another. Yet, everything that is Florida is defined by the quality of its water resources -- and deserves all the protection we can provide.

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Learn About Your Watershed

Perdido River and Bay Watershed

Image of Moonrise over Perdido Bay, Florida's western border
Moonrise over Perdido Bay, Florida's western border L.E. MacDonald

Watershed Stats

Size of Basin: 815 square miles in Alabama and 400 square miles in Florida, for a total of about 1,215 square miles

Major Cities and Towns: Pensacola, Molino, Gonzalez, Brent, Bellview, Cantonment, Myrtle Grove, and Walnut Hill

Counties: The entire portion of the watershed in Florida lies within Escambia County

Major Water Features:
Perdido River, Perdido Bay, Rocky Branch, Brushy Creek, Eightmile Creek, Marcus Bayou, Elevenmile Creek, Alligator Creek, Buckeye Branch, Freeman Springs Branch, Lake Fan, Black Lake, Reeder Lake, Alligator Bayou, Wicker Lakes, Cow Devil Creek, Tee Lake, Crescent Lake, and Tankiln Bayou

Overview

Image of Upper Perdido River serves as the western boundary between Florida and Alabama.
Upper Perdido River serves as the western boundary between Florida and Alabama. Donald Ray

The Perdido River and Perdido Bay form the north-south boundary between Florida and Alabama. The headwaters of the river are located near Bay Minette in Alabama at the confluence of Fletcher and Perdido Creeks. Surface waters, including lakes, streams, salt marshes, and freshwater wetlands, occupy 35,661 acres, or about 16 percent of the total watershed area.

The Perdido River is 220 miles long, with 96 miles within Florida. The river ranges from 30 yards across in its upstream segments to about 100 yards across near the mouth. It is a sand-bottom river in its upper reaches and a blackwater stream in its lower reaches. River flow is rainfall driven and fluctuates greatly on a seasonal basis. Larger tributary watersheds are the River Styx, Blackwater River, and Dyas Creek in Alabama, and Brushy Creek, Boggy Creek, McDavid Creek, and Jacks Branch in Florida. The River Styx and the Blackwater River enter the Perdido River close to its mouth, providing substantial freshwater discharge to both Perdido River and Perdido Bay. The Perdido River discharges into Perdido Bay about 15 miles west of Pensacola. Bayou Marcus and Elevenmile Creek in Florida and Soldier Creek and Palmetto Creek in Alabama, along with several smaller creeks, also discharge into the bay.

Perdido Bay, which covers 28 square miles, is a relatively shallow estuary, deeper on the Alabama side of the bay than on the Florida side. About 17 miles long and 2 to 4 miles wide, the bay averages 7 feet in depth. Wind speed, wind direction, tidal fluctuation, and freshwater discharges from tributaries control circulation and water elevations in the bay. The lowest freshwater flows to the bay occur during the fall and the highest in winter and spring.

The Perdido River and Perdido Bay form the north-south boundary between Florida and Alabama.

The principal land uses in the watershed are upland forest, urban development, and agriculture. Major timber companies (including those in Alabama) in the watershed are International Paper Corporation, DuPont Champion, and Scott Paper Company. Facilities associated with the Naval Air Station Pensacola and the U.S. Navy's Naval Education and Training Professional Development Technology Center are also located in the watershed.

The Perdido River and waterbodies within the boundaries of Big Lagoon State Recreation Area, Gulf Island National Seashore, and Perdido Key State Recreation Area are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters (OFWs). The watershed also contains a number of conservation areas that provide habitat for numerous rare and imperiled species. The Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie, a unique savannah-type system, is home to the white top pitcher plant. The prairie is approximately 7,661 acres in size, with 4,070 acres in state ownership as part of the Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park. The Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Nature Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy, protects 2,331 acres along the Perdido River, including 8 miles of riverfront. Perdido Key State Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and Big Lagoon State Park contain fragile coastal dune, scrub, and estuarine marsh ecosystems.

Human Impacts

Image of The erosion of dirt roads is a problem in many freshwater streams in the watershed. In 1991, Escambia County had 282 miles of unpaved dirt roads primarily supporting silviculture. The county used more than 100,000 cubic yards of fill material per year to grade dirt roads. Most of the dirt or washed off the roadways and entered streams or stormwater drainage systems.
The erosion of dirt roads is a problem in many freshwater streams in the watershed. In 1991, Escambia County had 282 miles of unpaved dirt roads primarily supporting silviculture. The county used more than 100,000 cubic yards of fill material per year to grade dirt roads. Most of the dirt or washed off the roadways and entered streams or stormwater drainage systems. © Donald Ray

The erosion of dirt roads and subsequent deposition of dirt in streams is a problem in many freshwater streams in the watershed. In 1991, Escambia County had 282 miles of unpaved dirt roads. The county used more than 100,000 cubic yards of fill material per year to grade dirt roads. Most of the material washed off the roadways and frequently entered streams or stormwater drainage systems.

There is extensive shoreline residential development in the lower part of Perdido Bay in Alabama and Florida; these areas have nonpoint source pollution issues from yard and street runoff.

The Maucher property, located near a tributary of Cow Devil Creek, became a state-funded hazardous waste site in 2002. The storage of military surplus items and damaged drums, some containing hazardous materials, led to wide-scale contamination of ground water and soil, mainly from trichlorethylene. Investigations in 2004 revealed that a plume of contaminated ground water extends beyond the property boundary. DEP negotiated with the Navy to have the drums containing hazardous material removed from the property and the site cleaned up.

Dubose Oil, located in the headwaters of Jacks Branch, was used from 1979 to 1982 for storing oil and hazardous waste. Soil, ground water, and surface water at the site were contaminated with volatile and semivolatile organics from oil and hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed and approved remediation, and in 2004 the EPA listed the site in the Federal Register for delisting under the federal Resources Conservation and Recovery Act.

In recognition of these impacts, DEP, the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD), and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality and quantity to restore and protect the Perdido watershed.

Interesting Facts:

  • Seepage slopes, a unique habitat in the watershed, are wetlands at the base of a slope where moisture is maintained. They provide habitat for a number of species of pitcher plants, including the state-listed endangered white top pitcher plant.
  • The watershed's coastal beaches, scrub, and strand communities provide important habitat for many threatened and endangered species, including four species of marine sea turtles, migratory birds that use coastal areas for feeding and resting during their migration between the tropics and North America, and numerous waterbirds.
  • The Perdido Key beach mouse is a federally endangered species found only on sand dunes located on Perdido Key.
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