Every few years Rodman Reservoir, a popular spot for bass fishing, is transformed during a carefully managed drawdown. The main purpose of the drawdown is to control water weeds that grow so abundant that they sometimes cover the lake in a thick mat.
During the drawdown submerged cypress trees that are usually below the surface of Rodman Reservoir create a visual effect that resembles a post-apocalyptic nightmare. The forest, which has remained flooded for almost half a century, looks like a sunken cemetery for trees.
Rodman Reservoir and Rodman Dam, also known as George Kirkpatrick Dam, are remnants of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal. This U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project was stopped in its tracks in January 1971 due to the efforts of Florida Defenders of the Environment. Its longtime leader, Marjorie Harris Carr, fought for another twenty years to get the Cross Florida Barge Canal deauthorized.
The Cross Florida Barge Canal, which would have bisected the state and damaged the Floridan Aquifer, was one-third complete at the time construction was stopped. Carr devoted the rest of her life to Florida Defenders of the Environment’s campaign to restore the Ocklawaha River to its precanal state. She died in 1997 without seeing the Ocklawaha run free again.
Today Florida Defenders of the Environment is taking a leading role in the campaign to make the Florida Legislature follow the intent of Amendment 1: the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, which three-quarters of Florida voters supported in the November 2014 election. Amendment 1 was designed to provide $10 billion for water and land conservation projects in Florida over a period of twenty years.
“Florida Defenders’ argument is that Amendment 1 places funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for explicitly designated uses—purchasing and restoring conservation lands—and that the legislature cannot appropriate those monies for other uses,” Florida Defenders of the Environment Vice President Joe Little stated in a November 9 press release.
Little, a retired University of Florida law professor, worked with Carr on the campaigns to save both the Ocklawaha River and Lake Alice, which the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Transportation planned to drain in the late 1960s to make way for a four-lane campus throughway and 2,000-car parking lot.
In theory, Amendment 1 funds could be used to pay for the restoration of the Ocklawaha River. According to Florida Defenders of the Environment’s Ocklawaha River restoration fact sheet, breaching the portion of the earthen George Kirkpatrick Dam that blocks the Ocklawaha River is expected to cost approximately $5 million. Constructing a new bridge over the Ocklawaha at the site of the current dam will cost about $2 million. Because it costs approximately $1 million per year to maintain the existing reservoir, dam and lock, restoration is more cost effective in the long run than leaving the aging dam in place.
Rodman Reservoir was created as a source of water to float barges on the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Because the canal was never completed, the dam and reservoir serve no purpose today. Although every governor from Reubin Askew to Charlie Crist has supported restoration of the Ocklawaha, powerful lobbyists and politicians have succeeded in defeating restoration measures for decades.
Rodman supporters argue that the reservoir is a valuable fishing hole. Environmentalists maintain that fishing will be better in a restored Ocklawaha River than in a shallow reservoir that requires expensive maintenance.
The public has the opportunity to visit the reservoir during drawdowns to make an informed decision. The current drawdown is expected to last until March 2016.
Learn more about pioneering Florida environmentalist Marjorie Harris Carr here.
Find out more about Florida Defenders of the Environment’s campaign to restore the Ocklawaha River here.