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The Water Channel

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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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Southern Coastal Watershed Excursion

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Take a Virtual Trip Through the Sarasota & Myakka River Basins

Explore the issues and impacts of the Southern Coastal region on this tour starting miles from the Gulf. (SWFWMD)

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Florida-Friendly Interactive Yard

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Learn about Florida-Friendly Landscaping Techniques

Fertilizers and pesticides used on residential and commercial landscapes are harming Florida's waterways. Find out how you can reduce your impact in your front and back yards.

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Learn About Your Watershed

Myakka River Watershed

Image of The Myakka River, designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River, flows through 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands.
The Myakka River, designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River, flows through 58 square miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands. Drew Wilson

Watershed Stats

Watershed Size: 550 square miles

Major Cities and Towns:
Sarasota, Bradenton, Northport, Port Charlotte, and Port Manatee

Counties: Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte Counties; small portions of DeSoto and Hardee Counties

Major Water Features: Myakka River, Flatford Swamp, Ogleby Creek, Owen Creek, Tatum Sawgrass Area, Upper Myakka Lake, and Lower Myakka Lake

Overview

The Myakka River flows nearly 66 miles southwest from its headwaters in marshes near Myakka Head, until it discharges into the Charlotte Harbor Estuary. The watershed is ecologically valuable and significant due to the variety, quality, and diversity of its landscape. It contains more freshwater wetlands than any other area in Charlotte Harbor and also includes extensive tidal wetlands. The central portion of the watershed features a large complex of public conservation lands. Much of the Myakka River has special protective designations.

Image of Myakka River contains more freshwater wetlands than any other area in Charlotte Harbor and also includes extensive tidal wetlands. The central portion of the watershed features a large complex of public conservation lands.
Myakka River contains more freshwater wetlands than any other area in Charlotte Harbor and also includes extensive tidal wetlands. The central portion of the watershed features a large complex of public conservation lands. Gary Burdette

The area is largely rural, with agriculture and conservation/recreation being the major land uses, except for the city of North Port and several residential subdivisions. Development pressure in the region is rapidly increasing along with population. By 1990, the population of Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Hardee, and DeSoto Counties and the city of North Port totaled about 827,000 people. By 2020, it is estimated to grow to more than 1.1 million, an increase of 33 percent. Most of the region's growth comes from the large number of retirees and others attracted to recreational opportunities. The region also experiences significant seasonal population increases during the winter, and tourism plays a vital economic role.

Image of Wading birds like this Roseatte Spoonbill are in abundance in the Myakka River watershed.
Wading birds like this Roseatte Spoonbill are in abundance in the Myakka River watershed. Gary Burdette

The Charlotte Harbor Estuary, an Outstanding Florida Water, is one of Florida's least-spoiled systems and attracts visitors for recreational activities. It is also an estuary of national significance under the National Estuary Program and a SWFWMD Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) priority waterbody for restoration and protection. The estuary is considered one of the healthiest in the nation and contains extensive seagrass meadows, mangrove swamps, and salt marshes, which serve as nurseries for shrimp, crabs, and fish. In turn, these species support important commercial and recreational fishing industries.






Human Impacts

During the past century, human activities-including phosphate mining, citrus and row crop production, cattle ranching, and urban and suburban development-have contributed nutrients and other pollutants to surface waters in the Myakka watershed. While water quality is generally good, future increases in nitrogen and phosphorus loadings, which stimulate the growth of aquatic plants and accelerate eutrophication, are the greatest potential threat to water quality in the river system, including the estuarine portion of the lower river.

In recognition of these impacts, FDEP, the SWFWMD, and local governmental, scientific, educational, and citizen organizations are working to develop strategies for protecting and restoring water quality in the Myakka River watershed.

Interesting Facts:

  • The Myakka watershed has more freshwater wetlands than any other area in the Charlotte Harbor region.
  • The Myakka River is a major source of fresh water to Charlotte Harbor, an important fishing and recreational area that also provides nursery habitat for many commercial and recreational fish and shellfish, and shelters species such as the West Indian manatee.
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