Coastal River Systems
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Withlacoochee River Watershed
Withlacoochee River basin is located in West-Central Florida and covers approximately 2,100 square miles. The headwaters
of the 157-mile long Withlacoochee River are located in the Green Swamp together with those of the Hillsborough, the
Oklawaha and Peace rivers. The Withlacoochee River drains northwards from the Green Swamp before turning west through
the Dunnellon Gap in the Brookesville Ridge to its estuary on the Gulf of Mexico, near Yankeetown. The Tsala Apopka
Plain is part of the Withlacoochee River valley.
The high sandy ridges, comprised of the Brookesville, Lakeland and Lake Wales ridges, are the remnants of ancient
sand dunes, the portion of peninsula Florida not inundated by a series of rising and receding ocean levels over the ages,
giving rise to ecosystemsa community of organisms, including humans, interacting with one another and the environment in which they live. not found anywhere else in the
world. The sandy soils, allowing rainfall to penetrate, provide a high recharge areaThe area on the Earth's surface that receives water for storage into a particular aquifer. for the Floridian aquifer underlying Citrus County. In the northern part of the region the aquifer is often
exposed at the surface as the first magnitude springs of Citrus and Hernando County (the Citrus, Homosassa,
Chassahowitzka and Weeki Watchee spring systems).
The Green Swamp, located 20 miles west of Orlando and 30 miles northeast of Tampa, encompasses roughly 820 square
miles and is comprised of cypress swamps, hardwood forests, pine flatwoods, pastures, prairies, and sandhills. It is a
critical area for maintaining the flow of water from the Floridan Aquifer to major river systems in central Florida (including
the Withlacoochee River). In 1974, the Green Swamp area was designated as an area of critical state concern that
resulted in increased restrictions of land use and taking a large portion of the Green Swamp into public ownership,
designated as a Wilderness Preserve to limit development and protect natural resources.
The low-lying and flat gradients of this area also make it a substantial natural storage area for floodwaters.
Seventy seven percent of the output from the Green Swamp is due to evapotranspirationCombined loss of water to the atmosphere via the processes of evaporation and transpiration
back into the atmosphere. The Green Swamp is also important in terms of a groundwater resource, and as an area of
recharge with some portions of the swamp forming low to moderate groundwater rechargeThe replenishment of groundwater with surface water. areas. This area is a potentiometric high for the Floridian Aquifer, and is a major groundwater source of
In wet weather the entire area can be interconnected with sheet flow.
The underlying geology of the area traversed by the Withlacoochee River, and westward to the coast of the Gulf of
Mexico, consists of water-soluble limestoneSedimentary rock composed of carbonate minerals, especially calcium carbonate. Limestone can be created by clastic and non-clastic processes. Clastic limestones are formed from the break up and deposition of shells, coral and other marine organisms by wave-action and ocean currents. Non-clastic limestones can be formed either as a precipitate or by the lithification of coral reefs, marine organism shells, or marine organism skeletons. known as karstAn area of irregular limestone rock formations in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.
Such terrain is created when ground-water dissolves the limestone..
As the limestone dissolves channels and caverns are formed, the latter can collapse to form sink holes, and the former
provide means for waters of the aquifer to flow from place to place.
The path of the Withlacoochee River forms the eastern boundary of Citrus County. There, the river embraces the Tsala
Apopka Lake in eastern Citrus County, Florida. The Tsala Apopka Plain, which lies between the Brooksville Ridge to the
west and the Sumter and Lake Uplands to the east, is approximately 50 miles long and up to 14 miles wide. Tsala Apopka
Lake is described as a series of interconnected swamps, marshes, ponds and lakes, a component of the Withlacoochee River
Lake Tsala Apopka.
The Tsala Apopka chain of lakes has a total surface area of approximately 24,000 acres. The Tsala Apopka is a large
series of interconnected marshes and open water with complex connections from, and back to the river. Water interactions
between the Withlacoochee River and the Tsala Apopka chain of lakes take place via the Leslie Heifner Canal and the
Orange State Canal, which connect the two. The open water portions of the pools consist of three primary pools, the
Floral City, the Inverness and Hernando pools and each pool is further separated into smaller lakes.
The region was settled in the 1800s, as small settlements developed along the western margin of Lake Tsala Apopka to
sustain farming. During the 1880s and 1890s the citrus boom occupied the area’s economy. In 1884, the Orange State
Canal was dug by a transit company founded by Citrus County businessmen. The canal created a waterway which allowed
steamboats from Floral City to travel up the Withlacoochee River through the Outlet River to Lake Panasoffkee. The
southernmost railroad terminal was located at Panasoffkee town and allowed the citrus market to rapidly expand. This
expansion led to numerous fast growing towns that included Hernando and Arlington (founded 1881), Floral City (founded
1883), Mannfield (founded 1884), Fairmount and Orleans (founded 1885), and Inverness (founded 1889). In 1895 a series of
citrus freezes ruined the citrus industry.
The second great economic boom occurred when phosphate was discovered in 1889 in Dunnellon, Floral City, Inverness
and Hernando. Extensive logging began in the 1920s and continued through the 1960s A real estate boom began in the 1920s
and lasted through the 1950s.
Until the latter part of the 1800s, surface water connections between the lake and the river during periods of
average rainfall were likely restricted to forested and herbaceous wetland areas. Installation of water control
structures and other canal systems significantly altered connectivity between the lake and river, notably with
construction of the Orange State Canal in 1884 and elsewhere in subsequent years.
Currently, deeper open-water systems tend to occur in the western portion of the basinA large, bowl shaped depression in the surface of the land or ocean floor.;
shallower ponds, swamp and herbaceous marshes extend eastward toward the Withlacoochee River.
Common aquatic macrophytes include saw grass (Cladium jamaicense), panic grasses (Panicum hemitomum,
Panicum repens), pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), american lotus (Nelumbo lutea), spatterdock (Nuphar
luteum), cattail (Typhasp.), Egyptian paspalidium (Paspalidium geminatum), southern naiad (Najas
quadalupensis), bladderwort (Utriculariasp.), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum), tape-grass (Vallisneria
americana), stonewort (Nitellasp.), pondweed (Potamogeton illinoensis), and hydrilla (Hydrilla
Dominant woody speciesA taxonomic category subordinate to a genus (or subgenus) and superior to a subspecies or variety, composed of individuals possessing common characters distinguishing them from other categories of individuals of the same taxonomic level.
In taxonomic nomenclature, species are designated by the genus name followed by a Latin or Latinized adjective or noun. include water primrose (Ludwigia sp.),
willow (Salix sp.), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), red maple (Acer rubrum), and cypress (Taxodium sp).
Extensive canal systems have been dredged in wetlandsNatural land-use type that is covered by salt water or fresh water for some time period. This land type can be identified by the presence of particular plant species or characteristic conditions.
throughout the basin, and inshore areas of many deepwater habitats have been dredged for upland fill. Uplands in the
western portion of the basin are used primarily for residential development. Cleared uplands in the eastern basin are
used for livestock grazing. Public access to the lake system is available at several public boat ramp facilities, parks
and State-owned lands, including the District's Flying Eagle and Potts Preserve tracts.
The main source of surface water input is, however, the Withlacoochee River. Inflow from the river occurs primarily
in the Floral City Pool area, through the Orange State and Leslie Heifner Canals. UncontrolledNot under control, discipline, or governance
flow from the river also enters the lake system during periods when the river stage exceeds natural control elevations
along the western bank of the river.
Control of inflow from the river to the Floral City Pool is maintained through operation of three water control
structures. The Floral City Water Control Structure, which is located on the Orange State Canal, has been operated since
1962 to control flow into Florida City Lake and prevent backflow from the lake to the river. A smaller structure, the
Orange State Water Control Structure, has been used since 1966 to control inflows from the Orange State Canal to the
marsh area east of Floral City Lake. The Leslie Heifner Water Control Structure has been operated since 1967 to regulate
flow in the Leslie Heifner Canal.
Numerous other water control structures govern water flows between various pools and lakes comprising the overall
Tsala Apoka Lake system, or allow diversion of water from the lake system back to the Withlacoochee River.
Heath and Conover (1981) note that Tsala Apopka Lake is a meandered lake, a designation indicative of navigability,
which is often used to establish State sovereignty. The "Gazetteer of Florida Lakes" (Florida Board of
Conservation 1969, Shafer et al. 1986) lists an area of 19,111 acres and water surface elevation of 39 feet for
Tsala Apopka Lake.
The Rainbow River
The Rainbow River, also known as the Blue Run, joins as a tributarySmall stream emptying into bigger river
of the Withlacoochee River from the north, about three miles from the town of Dunnellon. The headwaters begin from
numerous spring vents that issue an average of 500 million gallons of water every day at a year-round temperature of 72
degrees. The clear waters of Rainbow Springs come from several vents, not one large bubbling spring. The park is a
popular destination to swim, snorkel, canoe, picnic, or stroll on the walking paths to enjoy the many plants and animals
that abound there. The river itself supports a wide variety of fish, wildlife, and plants - many within easy viewing by
crystal clear water, abundant wildlife and the discovery of hard rock phosphate began attracting residents and tourists
as early as the late 1880s. After a decline following the construction of Interstate 75, the entire Rainbow River was
designated as a Registered Natural Landmark in 1972, an Aquatic Preserve in 1986, and an Outstanding Florida Waterway in
1987. The state of Florida purchased the site in 1990 and with the help of volunteers, the site opened for weekend
visitors in March, 1995. The park encompasses 1,000 acres comprised of 826 upland acres, 79 wetland acres, and 15
submerged acres. Within the park are about a dozen distinct natural communities including sandhill, flatwoods, upland
forest, and hydric hammock. Once the site of extensive formal gardens, a variety of wildflowers and trees remain with
much wildlife attracted to the area.
Anglers, swimmers and snorkeling enthusiasts share clear water with largemouth bass and bluegill. Canoeists enjoy
wildlife, views of wading birds and the American alligator. Visitors to Rainbow Springs State Park enjoy swimming,
picnicking, nature study, walking, camping, and canoeing. The park is known for its bountiful azalea garden.
River has a number of regulations in place to protect it. No tubing is allowed within 600 yards of the headsprings and
swimming and snorkeling in that area is restricted to the buoyed swimming area to prevent injury and uprooting of water
plants. Motors are not allowed in the restricted area and you are not allowed in any way to anchor, land, or get out of
your vessel other than at the designated canoe dock. The restricted area is clearly marked by a buoy placed in the
center of the river. County ordinances applying to the entire Rainbow River include: no fishing within one mile of the
headspring; it is unlawful to possess alcoholic beverages or to possess any food or drink in a disposable container; you
must display the appropriate "diver down" flag while snorkeling or scuba diving; vessels may not go faster
than idle speed or cause a wake. By following these rules, the Rainbow River is safer, cleaner, and protected for all to
Rousseau is an impoundment of the Withlacoochee River, located 11 miles upstream of the river’s mouth. It is one
of the oldest impoundments of its kind in Florida. Lake Rousseau was constructed in 1909 with the building of the dam at
Inglis for electric power generation. The power generating facility ceased operation in 1965.
Three counties border upon Lake Rousseau; Levy County to the North, Citrus County to the South and Marion County
bounds the East. The Rainbow River and Withlacooche Rivers feed Lake Rousseau. Rousseau is primarily a Bass fishing lake
because of the abundance of vegetation and natural cover. Big Bass like this lake within which stumpy cypress tree
remains abound, as do a variety of other fresh waterWater that is relatively free of salts. speciesA taxonomic category subordinate to a genus (or subgenus) and superior to a subspecies or variety, composed of individuals possessing common characters distinguishing them from other categories of individuals of the same taxonomic level.
In taxonomic nomenclature, species are designated by the genus name followed by a Latin or Latinized adjective or noun..
The Withlacoochee River channel cuts through Lake Rousseau to the Inglis Dam and Cross Florida Barge Canal.
Lake Rousseau is about 5.7 miles long and has a surface area of 4,263 acres. The Dam at Inglis is earthen with a
concrete water control structure. At the location of the dam the watershed drains 2,020 square miles. The Inglis Dam was
permitted in 1904 by the Camp Phosphate Company for hydroelectric power generation near Inglis. The permit allowed for a
dam height of 21 ft with a 36 x 133 ft lock. The dam allowed slack water navigation with 6 ft depths to a point above
Dunnellon. Florida Power Corporation later took over ownership of the 3200-kw plant.
Above Dunnellon, the Withlacoochee is generally highly colored with organic
bound nutrientsAny food, chemical element or compound an organism requires to live, grow, or reproduce., notably reactive phosphorus. The Rainbow has
high levels of dissolved nutrients (nitrateForm of nitrogen commonly found in the soil and used by plants for building amino acids, DNA and proteins. It is commonly produced by the chemical modification of nitrite by specialized bacteria. Chemical formula for nitrate is NO3-. / nitrite and
ortho-phosphorus) and is clear, lacking organically bound nutrients. In dry periods, flows into Lake Rouseau are
dominated by the spring fed waters of the Rainbow River.In generally wet periods, the Withlacoochee waters predominate
- Relating to an organism.
- Derived from an organism.
The Lower Withlacoochee River
Prior to the construction of the dam the Withlacoochee River flowed to the Gulf unaffected by structural water
controls. The physical structure acted to decrease flow by 7-10 percent to the lower river due to greater evapotranspirationCombined loss of water to the atmosphere via the processes of evaporation and transpiration
and because recharge to the ground water near the reservoir increased due to greater head difference. Because of the
portion of the barge canal that was completed, the pattern of outflow was changed. The current operating schedule allows
flows below 1,540 cfs to go through the bypass canal to the lower Withlacoochee River. Outflows above 1,540 cfs are
discharged through the Inglis Dam to the section of the Cross Florida barge Canal. These standards have changed the
stream flow conditions of the lower Withlacoochee River by restricting maximum flows to 1,540 cfs., acting to stabilizeTo maintain an non-fluctuating level of something; to become stable, or make something stable
seasonal variations in flow to the lower Withlacoochee River.
The consequential changes to fresh waterWater that is relatively free of salts. deliveries to
the Withlacoochee estuarineThe region of a tidal mouth of a river areas, which have allowed
further upstream salt water intrusions have had noticeable impact upon both the River ecology systems and offshore seagrassesFlowering plants that grow and reproduce under water like eelgrass or a similar grass-like plant that grows near the sea..