On the 2015-16 drawdown of the Rodman Pool

Cannon Springs Ecotour with Captain Erika Ritter
An ecotour by Captain Erika S. Ritter at Cannon Springs, a spring normally flooded by the Rodman Impoundment.

There are two significant relationships that have come to light during the most recent drawdown of the Rodman Pool on the Ocklawaha River in north central Florida. The first involves the interest and enthusiasm that have been raised through social media platforms—drawing sightseers, kayakers, springs enthusiasts, boaters, anglers, birdwatchers and more to this eighteen-mile-long stretch of damaged floodplain forest. This attention brought to the Kirkpatrick Dam and Rodman Pool has been elevated in direct proportion to the amount of water released, showing a promising involvement between the people of Florida and this river system. For every foot the water fell, another dollar was spent, another photograph was taken, another cypress seedling sprouted, and someone swam in another lost spring.

The second relationship this past drawdown exposed is that of the government and the river, and this second relationship is a tragic opposite of the first. Where the first is a relationship of celebration, hope and mourning, the second is a relationship of failure, deceit and neglect.

When the water held behind the Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam was released, the drained pool revealed something far more significant than just an ancient river buried beneath a slab of slow-to-non-moving water. The drawdown gave us an opportunity to viscerally experience what government failure looks like in its dirtiest, most blatantly neglectful moments.

The Rodman Impoundment during a drawdown.
The Rodman Impoundment during a drawdown. Note the failed barge canal channel on the top right of the photo.

Simply put, the Kirkpatrick Dam and Rodman Pool, built in the 1960s as part of the now-defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal, was a failure of big government spending. It was an incomplete project left for decades until it was decommissioned and turned over to the state with one condition: that a restoration plan be put in place. The state declined to honor that condition and, as such, has been operating the dam without a permit since the beginning of this century. This means that elected officials from the federal level on down have not only failed both their constituents and their legislative responsibility, but have also burdened them with unnecessary tax spending and economic and environmental damage to the residents of Putnam, Marion, St Johns and Duval counties.

Putnam and Marion counties used to attract presidents, dignitaries and movie stars to the free-flowing Ocklawaha River. Putnam County used to promote itself as the bass fishing capital of the world—before there was a dam across that river. For these counties the pool has become an anchor, sinking the entire region and preventing any chance of either economic or environmental recovery.
It is time to hold our elected officials responsible for their neglect and to stop defending this government failure. It is time to eliminate this relentless waste of tax spending and to expedite wealth and recovery.

As long as the Kirkpatrick Dam remains in place, it will be a symbol of poverty and failed promises. As long as the Rodman Pool exists, we Floridians are denied our birthright and held hostage by a decades-old mistake.

A man floats in a canoe over Cannon Springs during the drawdown of the Rodman Impoundment.We already have a road to recovery. Restoration plans have been developed that would bring anglers, birders and paddlers back to Palatka, that would create equitable recreation and fishing opportunities—opportunities that are available whether or not you can afford a boat—and that would put these counties on the map as not only being weekend destinations but also as being self-governing and autonomous, assertive in their future and proud of their home.

It is time to make the Ocklawaha a world-class destination again. Let’s let lunker bass once more rule the Ocklawaha River. Let’s renew the century-old tradition of running tours upriver from Palatka to Silver Springs. Let’s let the catfish, the redfish, the striped bass, the manatee, the sturgeon and the shad back upriver. Let the hunters and the anglers fill their boats sustainably and the birders and the paddlers and the springs enthusiasts fill their cameras with more than just a mirage. Let all of us once again get to know the sweetest water lane in the world and Florida’s most beautiful, wild and historic river. It is time we free the Ocklawaha River from the government and give it back to the people.

19 thoughts on “On the 2015-16 drawdown of the Rodman Pool”

  1. You’re going to need a new group of elected officials. The ones we have were elected on a “environmental protections are for libs and treehuggers and kill jobs” platform. They aren’t going to suddenly start listening to the people who never voted for them anyway.

  2. If we don’t work now to save or reclaim Florida’s natural springs, forests, rivers and grasslands, it will all be lost soon enough.l lived on Long Island in the 1960’s and then Suffolk county was nearly entirely farm land. Today, it is entirely urban sprawl…..one house after another. That can happen here if boundaries aren’t negotiated and enforced…..

    1. It can also happen when existing land management plans (boundaries) are disregarded, as would happen if the Plum Creek “city” is built on eastern Alachua County’s low lying flood prone lands. Mitigation will NOT replace lost wetlands, and the damage to the water supply in our aquifer will be permanent.

  3. I hope restoration plans include an assessment and action plan to build, restore and sustain functioning soils.
    Soil is the one natural resource that links water, air, plants and animals together. Where you find healthy functioning soils beneath the surface you find healthy environments above.
    Undisturbed natural soils have shown to,have infiltration rates up,to 15 inches per hour, however following disturbance that is significantly reduced. Thus we see increased flooding and nutrient transport because these native soils have 45% pore space. But following clearing, grading the PORES are permanently crushed.

    1. David, restoring more than 15,000 acres of floodplain forest (now currently flooded or impacted by the pool), would help to rebuild the soil, filter out excess nutrients and provide habitat for wildlife. Currently, much of the impact forest suffers from subsidence. You are absolutely right about soil’s importance. If you are interested in reading more about the soil in the Ocklawaha floodplain and Rodman Pool, check out this article I wrote: http://riverbedammed.org/floodplains/ Thanks for your comment and concern!

  4. Gary Lehnertz

    Unfortunately, the corrupt Republican politicians running Florida are ONLY interested in $$$$$$. Unless Rodman Pool can donate a few million to the Republicans in power, nothing will happen. Just look at how they have totally ignored the Florida voters on the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1.


    You seem to know quite a bit about this. What can be done, if you know?
    Can the state be legally compelled to comply with the federal directions to eliminate the dam do you think? Or is this only going to be accomplished politically?

  6. As long as Florida voters continue to elect people like our current governor to public office they will continue to reap the consequences of voting for a political party rather than a candidate’s past performance. As long as Florida is populated with people who choose to remain fearful of alligators, afraid of water bodies, averse to natural landscapes and ignorant of the consequences of their air-conditioned, green lawn lifestyles, there is ho hope for the Ocklawaha, the St. Johns or any other river here in this state.

  7. We need to keep reminding our lawmakers of the cost it takes just to maintain the Rodman Dam. It is no secret that it costs the state over $1 million dollars annually to maintain this monstrosity and for our lawmakers, who claim to be sound fiscal stewards, this is a lot of money we are throwing away, a million dollars at a time!
    Get rid of this money sinkhole! Get rid of the Rodman Dam!

  8. The Ocklnawaha River can be a world, state and local destination again, right now. Creating commerce, and adventure on the river can be promoted to the benefit of all from Mt. Dora (Lake Dora) and the other Harris Chain of Lakes to Palatka – and on to the Atlantic Ocean. You currently would pass through 2 locks to make the trip. I was recently on my boat the “Dreamer” for 3 days on the Lake Harris chain. There are folks now who enjoy the trip to Silver Springs in the Harris Chain area now – it is a long day trip. The Ocklnawaha River is currently blocked also by fallen trees north of Silver Springs. While on my boat trip I heard about a lady who on her own started clearing out the fallen trees on the lake harris canal about 10 years ago. Her efforts created community support with the project and open the canal to boat traffic and commerce. Tour boats now operate and move about the area along with other boaters. Toward the first of Nov. I’m planning to complete the full run of the river from lake harris to Palatka. Realizing that I may have to trailer my boat around the 10 to 15 mile area that is closed with fallen trees – -I can at least survey that area which i have only paddled down and take my chain saw to cut up a tree or two that block passage. If that portion was open, I think some of the tour boats may be enticed to do a trip the full length of the river. It could be about a 3 day trip from Lake Dora to Palatka. Overnight accommodations could be provided at a stop at Lake Griffis State Park, which has a dock and there are motels a couple miles away. The second night being spent at Ocklnawaha canoe Outpost, which have very nice cabins. If any other boaters would like to participate and cruse the route together let me know. Phil Robinson 352-4682931

  9. How? What type of lawsuit wouid work to accomplish this goal? What if we had 10 million dollars- what could we offer to the other side to appease them. I think it is time to think way outside the box on this one.

  10. I am a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in District 23. House District 23 is the eastern half of Marion County. I like to hunt. I like to fish. I want to TEAR DOWN THE DARN DAM!!!!

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