The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral

Jim Gross explains the history of the Ocklawaha River, one of Florida's most fixable environmental tragedies

November 01, 2022 Oscar Corral
Jim Gross explains the history of the Ocklawaha River, one of Florida's most fixable environmental tragedies
The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
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The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral
Jim Gross explains the history of the Ocklawaha River, one of Florida's most fixable environmental tragedies
Nov 01, 2022
Oscar Corral

The Ocklawaha River remains one of Florida’s greatest environmental blunders, choked off by a dam built in the 1960s to build the cross-Florida barge canal. The canal never happened, but the dam remains. More than 10,000 acres of forest and at least 20 springs were drowned by the lake that was created. Now the dam is aging, made of mostly sand, and is at high risk of failure. Yet the state continues to drag its feet on removing the dam and restoring the river’s natural flow, which would re-introduce 20 springs and a host of wildlife like manatees back into the river system. Jim Gross leads the oldest environmental advocacy non-profit in the state, Florida Defenders of the Environment, which focuses on protecting the state’s freshwater resources. We discuss how Marjorie Harris Carr led the activism to try to stop the Rodman dam from being built and how her activism led her to found the organization. Today, the removal of the aging dam is a top priority for springs, water and environmental advocates across north Florida.


Show Notes Transcript

The Ocklawaha River remains one of Florida’s greatest environmental blunders, choked off by a dam built in the 1960s to build the cross-Florida barge canal. The canal never happened, but the dam remains. More than 10,000 acres of forest and at least 20 springs were drowned by the lake that was created. Now the dam is aging, made of mostly sand, and is at high risk of failure. Yet the state continues to drag its feet on removing the dam and restoring the river’s natural flow, which would re-introduce 20 springs and a host of wildlife like manatees back into the river system. Jim Gross leads the oldest environmental advocacy non-profit in the state, Florida Defenders of the Environment, which focuses on protecting the state’s freshwater resources. We discuss how Marjorie Harris Carr led the activism to try to stop the Rodman dam from being built and how her activism led her to found the organization. Today, the removal of the aging dam is a top priority for springs, water and environmental advocates across north Florida.


00:00:02:10 - 00:00:14:04
Unknown
Welcome to the nature of Florida, the Sunshine State's only podcast dedicated to its wild and natural places and the fight to preserve them. I'm your host, Oscar Corral. I've dedicated much of my career to making films about environmental issues.

00:00:14:04 - 00:00:29:15
Unknown
Tune in each week to hear from a broad range of voices from scientists to surfers, activists to mermaids who are working on the front lines to save what's left of Florida's natural beauty and its wildlife. Hello, everybody, and welcome to another episode of The Nature of Florida podcast.

00:00:29:23 - 00:00:48:08
Unknown
My guest today is Jim GROSS. Jim GROSS is the executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment. It's a nonprofit organization founded in the late 1960s and focuses on preserving Florida's freshwater resources. And today, we're going to talk about all things freshwater, but we're going to focus on the springs and on the Oklahoma River.

00:00:48:14 - 00:01:05:06
Unknown
Welcome, Jim. Thank you. Good to be here. So, Jim, tell me, you know, when I hear Florida defenders of the environment, I think of this army of people who are interested in protecting what's left of Florida's environment. But but that's probably a little incorrect in my perception.

00:01:05:06 - 00:01:22:00
Unknown
So what is sort of defenders of the environment? What do you guys do? Well, we're a environmental nonprofit organization. 523. So there's lots of those to go around all over the place and certainly no shortage of them in the environmental field like Florida Defenders of the Environment.

00:01:22:14 - 00:01:44:12
Unknown
That said, Florida, the countries of the environment is the oldest Florida born environmental nonprofit in full in Florida. We incorporated back in the 1960s and late 1960s, Marjorie Harris Carr was the kind of the initial impetus for that.

00:01:44:19 - 00:01:58:22
Unknown
And the founder of the or co-founder of the organization. So was was the construction of the reservoir dam on the Oklahoma River a factor in founding this thing back in the 1960s? Yes, it was. Tell me about that.

00:01:59:09 - 00:02:23:05
Unknown
It was it was a big factor. Marjorie Marjorie Harris Carr was involved in lots of environmental issues during her lifetime, but the one that really got her riled up was this notion of building the Cross Florida Barge Canal that would involve building building a dam on the off the Ohio River.

00:02:23:14 - 00:02:42:20
Unknown
She thought that was the most horrendous idea she had ever heard of. She had moved to Florida early on it when she was a young person child, and nature was her passion from her youth all the way to her experiences in college.

00:02:43:09 - 00:03:01:14
Unknown
She had some trouble getting into college, the various places that she is, and some schools weren't admitting women back in the days when she was doing her her higher education. And so she had to pull some strings to get into, like, USF as a grad student.

00:03:02:04 - 00:03:16:14
Unknown
Marjorie Harris Carr's legacy lives on. They just passed or approved recently in the last year or so. The wildlife corridor, which was wasn't that one of her inspirations early on as well? And and didn't Florida defenders of the environment play a role in that?

00:03:16:23 - 00:03:35:18
Unknown
Oh, yes. If you're talking about the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross, Florida Greenway basically follows the the actual route of what was planned to be the barge canal route. And, you know, the state had already bought up all the lands for the for the route.

00:03:35:18 - 00:04:00:02
Unknown
And so they just when it when the project was finally scuttled due to Florida Defenders of the Environment's litigation against against the Army Corps of Engineers in those lands, you know, kind of kind of sat there already purchased and that made sense to just convert them into a greenway.

00:04:00:14 - 00:04:14:17
Unknown
And so it has the potential. It's it's already great for recreation as it is now, and it has the potential to be even better once the dam is out. I have actually been to a couple of spots where you can access that trail and it's it's wonderful.

00:04:14:17 - 00:04:30:16
Unknown
I wish I had more time to walk it. I walk maybe two or three miles of it. And I know that there's a lot more than that to explore. Walking, bicycling and paddling. Yes. Well, let's take a step back, Jim, and let's talk about the Oklahoma River and what what happened to that body of water.

00:04:31:17 - 00:04:52:13
Unknown
I'm going to just the present the problem. The Oklahoma River is a small river on the northern rim of Ocala National Forest. And in the 1960s, the Florida government had an idea to try to cut a canal across the state of Florida, kind of like the Panama Canal, so that ships wouldn't have to circumvent the whole state

00:04:52:13 - 00:05:08:16
Unknown
and go south past the Keys. They can just cut right through Florida. And and they they got they got about. Maybe a 10th of the way through until they realized that it was just a horrific idea that was not going to make any economic sense.

00:05:09:02 - 00:05:21:12
Unknown
But while while they were planning it, they dammed up the Oklahoma River and flooded. A bunch of forest and springs. So that's why I'm going to hand it off to you, Jim. What happened in the sixties with the Oklahoma River?

00:05:22:06 - 00:05:42:18
Unknown
Yeah, well, it's interesting. The history goes all the way back, even even in the days when when Spain owned Florida as a territory of the crown, they were looking for a way to get across Florida navigation, really, because particularly the old vessels made out of wooden wilderness.

00:05:42:22 - 00:06:00:16
Unknown
And it wasn't really safe going around the southern tip of Florida because lots of ships would, you know, land on reefs, breach the hull and sink and and lose their cargoes, sometimes loaded with quite a bit of valuable material.

00:06:01:04 - 00:06:28:05
Unknown
And so they started looking for it. So the idea goes way back. Even in the early 20th century, there was a movement afoot to build this canal project as a way to expedite the movement of goods across the floor from basically from like, say, the Mississippi Delta, and then going up around to to the east coast of

00:06:28:06 - 00:06:44:05
Unknown
Florida to make it faster to to to haul goods across east and west by doing that. So that for about a year in the Depression, there was funding for the project. And then actually they started construction on it.

00:06:44:05 - 00:07:00:03
Unknown
And we can still see some of the relics from what they did in that one year of funding in the area around Ocala, just south of Ocala. But they didn't get very far and it did not get funding for a second year.

00:07:01:24 - 00:07:28:08
Unknown
The idea never actually went away. There was an argument that it was going to be needed for deep self defense during World War Two. And there was an incident where a cargo vessel carrying oil, I think it was was was torpedoed by a German U-boat off of Jacksonville Beach in sight of people on the beach.

00:07:28:08 - 00:07:45:04
Unknown
And they saw it explode into flames and sink before their very eyes that that that tended to to give the people who we call the canal boosters who wanted the project built some some optimism that the project would would get going.

00:07:45:11 - 00:08:08:09
Unknown
I think it it was approved but never funded at that time. And so it didn't get started in after World War Two. There was continuing lobbying for the project in the fifties and sixties. And John Kennedy, when he was campaigning for president, didn't and didn't look like he was going to win Florida.

00:08:09:16 - 00:08:27:21
Unknown
And so somebody must have told Mr. Kennedy that if you if you say you want to support the cross Florida Barge Canal, you're going to get more voters, and which he did then he came out in favor of it, and he still did win Florida, but it didn't last long as president.

00:08:28:03 - 00:08:45:22
Unknown
And it was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson. And Lyndon Johnson was a different kind of president. Who is your your classic big capital projects kind of president. Liked the idea. Sounded good. Sounded like a good way to get the support of Florida voters and that sort of thing.

00:08:46:02 - 00:09:01:14
Unknown
So that's when it really got started under Lyndon Johnson in the early 1960s, and they had to do the planning at first. But the construction started not long thereafter and the dam was in place. By 1968, the Rodman Dam and the Rodman Dam blocked up the Oklahoma River.

00:09:01:21 - 00:09:13:24
Unknown
Talk to me a little bit about the Ohio River, Jim. What what is your global river and where does it feed to? And and what happened once a dam was built? Well, the off the Wall River really is a fairly large river system.

00:09:13:24 - 00:09:40:11
Unknown
If you look at its entire watershed, it actually the farthest most distilled southern point of water that feeds into that river basin comes all the way from the green swamp in the central Florida, and it flows north through a series of lakes called the Claremont Chain of Lakes and makes its way eventually up into the lakes.

00:09:41:14 - 00:10:00:14
Unknown
HARRIS Chain of lakes in central Florida that are west of the Orlando area. Lake Apopka is one of those lakes. It doesn't come into Lake Apopka, but it's part of that whole chain of lakes. And then on the north side of the of the Harris chain of lakes is where we begin calling it the Ohio River, same

00:10:00:19 - 00:10:24:21
Unknown
, same watershed. But then then the name comes in as the river at that point in time, and then it continues traveling north and it meets the tributary of Silver Springs. Silver Springs. Is, is, is. Could arguably be called the real source of the river, because that's where most of the water is coming from and most reliably.

00:10:24:21 - 00:10:37:16
Unknown
And then it. And the Silver River that comes out of Silver Springs. Yeah, that's right. Silver Springs is to the west and there's a a short few mile run from the from the spring down the Silver River to the confluence with the Clearwater River.

00:10:38:00 - 00:11:02:10
Unknown
And so what happened when the dam was built? When the dam was built, we began began to seeing the adverse impacts of having a dam in place. Didn't take very long after the dam was in place for for the dam to fill up and for the, you know, the river to be closed off to species of of

00:11:02:17 - 00:11:27:03
Unknown
of animals that needed to go up and down the river for various purposes. You know, like what kinds of species. Well, manatees is the one is most most often thought of. So manatees were blocked from their migration route that took them from the from the coastal areas further inland, where there's more seagrass meadows and there's the sea

00:11:27:03 - 00:11:46:14
Unknown
, there's the feeding. But the principal issue with for blocking manatees is that the manatees this far north in Florida can't survive the winter, the winter, without finding a spring to get to. When it gets really cold and it gets down to a certain temperature and the cool water gets the water temperature in the river gets down, you

00:11:46:14 - 00:12:04:20
Unknown
know, into the mid-sixties. Manatees die. It just can't take that. They're mammals. They can't take that much cold for that long without a certain amount of mortality. And so they were able to get out. There is Silver Springs is one of the most prominent places for them to find refuge.

00:12:05:05 - 00:12:16:24
Unknown
And of course, there was plenty of feeding as well. But those are those those cold snaps in Florida are very brave. They just need to get there to survive. For how long? It is two or three, four or five days, maybe a week.

00:12:17:08 - 00:12:37:07
Unknown
And then they can go back and to where they normally range fur or grazing on seagrasses and so things. So once a dam was built, the river started swelling up and flooding overflowing its banks and creating a reservoir and also overflowing its banks further, further upstream.

00:12:37:13 - 00:12:53:09
Unknown
So how many acres in total were drowned by the Okowa River, by the dam construction? Roughly at me on numbers here, I'd have to go look that one up. But it certainly is orders of magnitude greater than the surface area of the river alone.

00:12:53:09 - 00:13:13:16
Unknown
It's just, you know, you're comparing comparing a line to a circle. One has an area and another has very little. I think I've heard something like 20,000 acres. Excuse me. On that order. Yeah. Yes, it's huge. And surely you would, you would think that the dam had some other great purpose, like, like, you know, creating renewable energy

00:13:13:16 - 00:13:33:01
Unknown
or or some sort of, you know, energy project. Right. But no, no, the dam does now. Well, but, you know, we best build dams in this country for a variety of purposes. This particular dam was built for for commercial navigation, but we also build them for water supply, power generation and flood control.

00:13:33:19 - 00:13:51:21
Unknown
This dam has no potential for water supply, flood control or average injury. Well, it just doesn't have any economic power. It wasn't built for that. Its intended purpose was something else navigation. So it was built for navigation. And then what happened to the project?

00:13:51:21 - 00:14:16:16
Unknown
What happened to the to the Cross Florida Barge Project? Well, it it got shut down initially by a court order by a judge in Washington, DC, pursuant to litigation that was brought by Florida Defenders of the Environment and its partner, whose initials are the same that reversed the Environmental Defense Fund, EDF and FDA.

00:14:17:06 - 00:14:34:04
Unknown
And we joined together and and we approached them and said, hey, you want to be our partner in this? And they said, yes. And so it went before a judge up there and a judge ruled in our favor and said this, this is not appropriate.

00:14:34:04 - 00:14:57:19
Unknown
And it was it was timely. Convenient for how things went through in chronological order because we had just gotten the law on the books that required any projects that were built with federal dollars that had to have an environmental impact statement done on them, and the federal government had done it.

00:14:58:04 - 00:15:19:16
Unknown
So it felt, you know, for defenders, the environment had done one and showed adverse environmental impacts. And so that's why the judge stopped it. Our entire environmental impact statement probably wasn't considered adequate, but it was enough to of what the court should have done.

00:15:19:22 - 00:15:35:03
Unknown
But it was adequate enough for that judge to say, get your get your act together. Army Corps of Engineers and do this. Eventually, they did do it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are you know, they're good, solid people and they're very qualified.

00:15:35:04 - 00:15:58:12
Unknown
They did it and they came back and they concluded the project is barely justifiable economically. Absent doing the analysis on the environmental impacts, but in consideration of the environmental impacts, it doesn't make sense to move forward with completing the construction of this project.

00:15:58:18 - 00:16:17:01
Unknown
So the federal government just said, Nope, we're done. And then there was a whole period of time where we were kind of in limbo of what's going to happen next. So the project was basically abandoned, stopped by a judge in the 19, probably late sixties, early spring 69, I believe, 69.

00:16:17:12 - 00:16:27:12
Unknown
And so but the dam remains. So you'd think that when the project was stopped, they'd say, okay, well, the dam is no longer useful. We're no longer going to need it to navigate through across Florida a barge canal.

00:16:27:13 - 00:16:50:13
Unknown
So let's take it down. But what happened instead, Jim? Well, Florida kind of was a little bit flustered about well, we didn't expect this. You know, this is kind of pre environmental era for Florida. You know, the the first really big significant environmental law on the books in Florida was in 1972 with the Water Resources Act.

00:16:50:14 - 00:17:12:19
Unknown
So all this kind of pre-dated Florida's kind of consciousnesses at the state level for environmental impacts. So they began looking at the state, began looking at what to do about this, and they commissioned some committees to take a look at what the options are.

00:17:13:18 - 00:17:36:22
Unknown
The first attempt at that was a citizen group, a citizens advisory group, and it didn't didn't end well. It was so contentious that they never really issued a final report because nobody could agree on it. There was the don't build it and then the do build it.

00:17:37:06 - 00:17:58:21
Unknown
And they were totally antagonistic to each other. And so it really was a total flop. So that was succeeded by another effort that was brought about by Tallahassee. And there was. I thought that the study should be done to take a look at this.

00:17:59:09 - 00:18:19:08
Unknown
And so the state legislature appropriated what I think it was $900,000 to do a rather comprehensive study. Of three different options for the river. There was one that was don't do anything at all. Just leave it the way it is.

00:18:19:22 - 00:18:50:15
Unknown
There was another one that was called Remember Now, it basically was it was a it was part of what's called partial restoration, partial restoration alternative wood in which just remove enough of all of the infrastructure that was built for the dam to reestablish a free flowing river that will deliver all of the environmental benefits that the original

00:18:50:15 - 00:19:04:10
Unknown
free flowing river was. That was called partial restoration. Get it, get the dam up. You don't have to take all of it up. Any native river channel and flood floodplain. And then there was one that nobody liked called partial retention.

00:19:04:24 - 00:19:21:23
Unknown
Partial partial retention was just lower the water level behind the dam. Nobody liked that. There were there were really only two sides to this argument. The people who like fishing for for for bass in the reservoir, in their in their boats and wanted it leave it the way it was.

00:19:21:23 - 00:19:38:16
Unknown
And those people who were concerned about the environment and also the other recreation activities on the river who said, you know, let's take the dam out. And so both sides agreed. Partial partial retention was was not the course to go.

00:19:38:16 - 00:19:52:21
Unknown
And then they devolved to the other two options that really were the polar opposites of each other. And so what ended up winning out is really nothing happened. The dam has remained, as is for the past 50 plus years.

00:19:52:22 - 00:20:12:17
Unknown
Is that correct? Well, the state made a decision after those studies were done that were authorized by the state legislature, which I thought was a very wise move on the part of the state legislature. The reports were made and it was a general consensus that partial restoration was the right way to go.

00:20:13:05 - 00:20:34:09
Unknown
And so Governor Lawton Chiles at that time ordered his state agencies to begin working collaboratively with the St John's River Water Management District to get the partial restoration alternative moving, doing the planning, the permitting, and then ultimately the engineering work in the field to make it happen.

00:20:35:00 - 00:21:10:13
Unknown
So it was in 95 that Governor Charles gave the get go ahead on that. And and then 1997, what was then became the Florida Department of Environment Environmental Protection from its precursor agency or the Department of Environmental Resources or whatever it was called back then in the nineties, the permit application was made in 1997, and the Water

00:21:10:13 - 00:21:28:01
Unknown
Management District needs to do a lot of due diligence and consideration of complex permits like this. This is nothing they had seen before but a bit different. So it took them about a couple of years to to really do their due diligence on what the impacts would be from the construction and whatnot.

00:21:28:12 - 00:21:53:11
Unknown
And unfortunately, coincidentally, in time, we were beginning to see a emergence of what we call blue green algae occurring in the Saint John's River. These are not really algae, they're cyanobacteria. But be that as it may, they are exacerbated by nutrients in the water.

00:21:53:20 - 00:22:19:24
Unknown
And there was a concern that during the. Time that a work to remove the dam was going on, there would be a flux, a temporary flux of nutrients coming out from organic sediments behind the dam that had built up, that would flush out, go down the river and possibly exacerbate those blue green algae blooms in the St

00:22:19:24 - 00:22:42:03
Unknown
John's River. And so the district said, well, state of Florida, there's two things we can do here. We can deny your permit application or we can put it in what's called abeyance, put it on the shelf, as it were, while we finish the studies that we need to do to see if it really will be a problem

00:22:42:03 - 00:22:56:03
Unknown
to to when the dam is is into the rivers restored to a free flowing condition. The Water Management District did their due diligence very well. They went ahead with lots of studies, and they were some of them were very big comprehensive studies.

00:22:56:03 - 00:23:14:02
Unknown
The district one that really wanted to know everything about this and a lot of great reports were generated at that time. And it took a while. It took till a report was published in 2016. You're going to see, wow, that is a long time.

00:23:14:06 - 00:23:40:06
Unknown
Yeah. In 1997 to 2016 and. Basically the report came out in 2016, said, we can do it. It can be done. It can be managed without exacerbating these blue green algae blooms in the St John's River. And so that was that was at a time where we didn't exactly have the right leadership at the top.

00:23:40:18 - 00:24:01:24
Unknown
We didn't have an environment or an environmentally friendly governor at the top at that. We unfortunately didn't have the sympathies in the governor's office at that time. And this is politically very politically divisive, right? It is very, very divisive, along with along with 20 plus thousand acres of forest, 20 springs were also drowned along the Oklahoma River

00:24:02:08 - 00:24:13:18
Unknown
. And as as for for listeners who may not know this, Florida has the largest and highest concentration of freshwater springs in the world. And it's it's known for that. How they're not part of the national park is beyond me.

00:24:13:19 - 00:24:28:13
Unknown
But that's a whole other conversation. But so these 20 springs have the potential to reemerge, as we will know, because the infrastructure for the springs below ground, you know, the water flow is still there. And we know this because of the drawdowns that are done in the river every few years.

00:24:28:13 - 00:24:41:01
Unknown
The Army Corps of Engineers of Engineers brings down the water levels and some of these springs reemerge. So we know that the springs are still alive and we can restore potentially up to 20 springs if this dam were taken down.

00:24:41:12 - 00:24:58:03
Unknown
So here we are, 20, 22, 50 plus years after that dam was built and the dam remains. The forest around it remains drowned. The springs remain drowned. The dam serves absolutely no purpose for any sort of economic reasons other than maybe to create a reservoir for bass fishermen.

00:24:59:01 - 00:25:16:12
Unknown
But yet there is still reluctance. What's the status of the fight right now, Jim? What's going on with that? Well, just a few years back, Alaska and Florida defenders of environment going at this for years and years. But we.

00:25:18:00 - 00:25:37:13
Unknown
I came to the realization. Shortly after I started working for F.T. in 2016. A couple of years later, I told my executive committee that, you know, we need more horsepower. We need more we need more people on this.

00:25:37:14 - 00:25:58:04
Unknown
And we can't afford it with our budgets. What if we formed a partnership to do this with other environmental organizations in this day? And I started reaching out to partners that I was fairly confident, confident would would stand with us.

00:25:58:18 - 00:26:29:24
Unknown
And sure enough, they did. Organizations like Florida Wildlife Federation and 1000 Friends of Florida and several others, even the Sierra Club, Florida. And we I wrote a letter to Governor elect Santos congratulating him on his win before he took office and and and giving him the heads up about the situation and how he could push this forward

00:26:30:10 - 00:26:54:08
Unknown
. And it would be a great thing for Florida. And then shortly thereafter, we continued to build that coalition to the point where we got a lot of partners, not just five, but a lot. I think by the time we got to our next letter, we had maybe somewhere on the order of 35 or so.

00:26:54:19 - 00:27:15:13
Unknown
And I wrote another letter to the governor after he was the governor and sworn in and saying, all these organizations support restoration of the river. Every governor, Lawton Chiles, all the way through Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist all supported restoration of the river.

00:27:16:02 - 00:27:27:22
Unknown
It's not a politically divisive issue in the state of Florida. I'm sure you'll agree that this is the right thing to do. It was kind of the gist of it. It was you know, it was it was intended to inform the history.

00:27:28:03 - 00:27:48:21
Unknown
If he wasn't aware of it. And so that letter went out and that one was the it when when that letter went out with that many names on it. And we started getting a lot of interest from other organizations and somebody somebody who I think, you know, jumped in and said, I want to help.

00:27:49:07 - 00:28:08:10
Unknown
And that was Margaret SPOHN Tack who jumped in. And, oh, I was so pleased to see her back in the game again. She had been in the game earlier, but she she had to take a little time out for a while because she was working for an employer who it might have been incompatible for her to be

00:28:08:10 - 00:28:24:12
Unknown
doing environmental work while she was working for that employer. But when she resigned that position, she came back and she took over and she chaired what ultimately became the Treaty of the Water River Coalition for everyone for the Force Coalition.

00:28:24:12 - 00:28:38:10
Unknown
And she's done a great job. I hope to get Margaret's Pontiac on this podcast soon so we can talk to her a little bit more about that. And so is there hope, Jim, that this dam might actually be able to come down in the next few years and and the Oklahoma River get gets restored?

00:28:39:01 - 00:29:02:16
Unknown
I think so. I think so. Even even even regardless of who is governor after the next general election, you know, Charlie Crist has already come out saying, if I'm elected governor, I'm going to do this. You know, you wrote a couple of different papers and an op ed about this is writing Florida and basically said, if I

00:29:02:16 - 00:29:15:15
Unknown
don't win, I recommend to Governor Santos that that he follow through with this because it's the right thing to do for. So he's not a really politically devices style of writing in that particular op ed. It was just this is good for Florida.

00:29:16:00 - 00:29:31:17
Unknown
Well, everybody agrees in the past this is what should be done in terms of measuring the vast majority of the people. And this is supported by it, by a survey that was done by the water management district not long ago, a couple years back, not even a couple of years where they they survey surveyed people, something they

00:29:31:20 - 00:29:49:11
Unknown
got something like 10,000 responses to this survey. That overwhelmingly was supported restoration of the river reef. Another crazy, crazy fact out there, which I found out while we were researching for our documentary, The Fellowship of the Springs. Was that the bridge?

00:29:49:17 - 00:30:03:18
Unknown
I'm sorry? The dam is past its intended lifespan. The dam is aging and had a lifespan of, I don't know, 40 or 50 years. We're now way past the 50 year mark and and the dam is deteriorating. Talk to me about that.

00:30:04:04 - 00:30:22:16
Unknown
Is that that's. That's a that's a very serious parallel issue on this whole thing. The dam, of course. Doesn't generate the revenue it would have if there had been across Florida Barge Canal. And so there are sources of funding to keep up the maintenance.

00:30:23:03 - 00:30:53:13
Unknown
But it's not happening. It hasn't been happening. The dam has been undergoing progressive deterioration, as all dams do. And this particular dam is getting to be a little bit too hazardous. Dams are rate rated on their on their hazardous hazard potential from a low hazard to moderate to high hazard.

00:30:53:22 - 00:31:14:10
Unknown
This particular dam is rated as a high hazard dam because if it were to experience. A catastrophic collapse. I'll explain how that might happen, that it could actually lead to loss of life, not just property damage, loss of life.

00:31:15:22 - 00:31:35:21
Unknown
A significant hazard is just loss of property high as it is loss of property and the loss of life. And why this particular dam is particularly vulnerable? Is it because it's built of sand and you know how permeable sand is?

00:31:36:08 - 00:32:01:21
Unknown
Right. And is is allows water to flow through it very easily. And if some of the barriers to flow that are built underneath the dam were to breach through corrosion or other processes and water starts seeping through them, it's going to flow through a porous flow first, very slowly, but eventually it's going to speed up as it

00:32:01:21 - 00:32:16:07
Unknown
bring in erode sand all the way through the dam and discharges it downstream. And so the little seep gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Pretty soon you got a rushing flow of water through there.

00:32:16:18 - 00:32:31:00
Unknown
And when you don't know what's happening, it can't be seen. It's invisible. And then you have a catastrophic collapse of the dam, or boom, the thing just collapses and empties out in a matter of hours after it happened.

00:32:31:07 - 00:32:45:10
Unknown
And that's the kind of a failure that has happened in other dams in the country that were or they didn't know about the hazard or they didn't do the right maintenance or whatever the reasons. And right now, the state of Florida is.

00:32:47:13 - 00:33:14:09
Unknown
See how generous they can be here. Not living up to due diligence in assessing the risk of of of of failure, of a catastrophic failure. They they know there are portions of the dam that they can't inspect because they're clogged with vegetation behind the dam, a problem that's been known for years and was supposed to be fixed

00:33:14:09 - 00:33:35:00
Unknown
a long time ago, but wasn't. For whatever reasons, I don't know what they are, but they should have fixed it. And so they haven't been able to get down and look to see what the what the condition of some of those underwater barriers are to the potential for poor failure so that we at very least, the state

00:33:35:00 - 00:33:48:11
Unknown
should be doing that. And, of course, the state knows about that. They they did issue a series of reports in March of this year that said, yeah, we better be looking at that, but I'm not aware that they've done anything about it.

00:33:48:24 - 00:34:09:23
Unknown
So so to recap, the cross Florida Barge Canal idea was abandoned in the 1960s, but before it was abandoned, this dam was built. But just because the idea was abandoned, the dam did not get taken down. The dam remained, even though it served no economic purpose whatsoever or environmental or any purpose whatsoever, other than blocking a river

00:34:09:23 - 00:34:25:07
Unknown
and 20 springs and drowning 20,000 acres of forest and 20 springs along it. And here we are 50 years later. The dam is past its intended lifespan. Actions have tried to be taken to have the dam removed in a in a systematic and responsible way.

00:34:25:19 - 00:34:39:19
Unknown
And yet the state of Florida, for some reason, cannot bring itself to just. Remove the dam and just let the water flow. After 50 years after the dam is getting old, it's presenting a safety hazard to the communities around it.

00:34:40:03 - 00:34:59:03
Unknown
And so right now we have such, in my opinion, such incredible environmental dysfunction in Florida among our leaders that we cannot bring ourselves to remove a dam that serves no purpose other than destroying nature and is a hazard to the communities around it.

00:34:59:14 - 00:35:11:06
Unknown
And yet here we are still unable to do anything about it. I mean, it it kind of it's a little scary to think that if we can't if we can't do that, take that simple step to restore the local river.

00:35:12:10 - 00:35:23:22
Unknown
What does that tell you about the rest of our environmental challenges in Florida? Because we have many of them. And so I, I think it's so important for people like you and the work you're doing to keep bringing attention to issues like this.

00:35:23:22 - 00:35:36:21
Unknown
Jim Because without you and without the work you're doing, a lot of people wouldn't even know this problem exists. And they wouldn't know that it has a simple solution. It does. So what does your gut tell you about the future?

00:35:36:24 - 00:35:46:08
Unknown
Is there hope? I mean, I know you kind of recap that just a minute ago, but in a nutshell, what do you say? Well, if it wasn't hope, I suppose we wouldn't be wasting any time. There is hope.

00:35:47:07 - 00:36:10:04
Unknown
And, you know, you know, in terms that you're talking about, you know, serving no economic purpose, it serves a tiny little recreational purpose for people who like to fish there. But studies have been done by economists, not me, not a geologist, by economists who look at this more than once and including relatively recently that have said this

00:36:10:04 - 00:36:33:16
Unknown
is good for Florida economically, is so good that it'll pay back the costs to restore the river in just a few years. Wow. Yeah. Wow. So it's not even a cost issue. It's not even a cost issue. So independent economists are saying that if you remove that dam, the economic the economic perks will quickly outweigh any financial

00:36:33:23 - 00:36:47:12
Unknown
any financial burdens of it. And from what I understand for good, I remember removing that dam would not cost a lot of money. I think it's a tiny drop in the bucket, something like 30 to $35 million to remove that dam, which is which is really not a lot of money in the state of Florida's budget.

00:36:48:09 - 00:37:05:23
Unknown
So and just just to recap what other people Jim GROSS is a scientist by trade, although he's the executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment. He's a geologist. He used to work for the St John's River Water Management District and I believe other water management districts and South Florida Water Management and South Florida Water Management District

00:37:05:23 - 00:37:27:05
Unknown
. So you've gotten your fair share of governmental experience on these issues. So you speak from a point, in my opinion, from a point of authority about this and you know what you're talking about. And I would say that that the work you're doing, again, is something that everybody should appreciate, because although you're outgunned, outmanned out, resourced by

00:37:27:07 - 00:37:46:07
Unknown
very heavy hitters, the cause that you represent is a noble one. And it's something that I think a lot of people are ready to get behind. So my last question, Jim, is how can people get involved in these issues and help support Florida's environment, support your environmental organizations?

00:37:46:18 - 00:38:09:08
Unknown
We're on the cutting edge of advocacy for protecting Florida's environment. Our water resources support Florida defenders the environment, support all the environmental organizations in Florida and and talk to your elected officials and tell them what you want to see done specifically about the Ocala River.

00:38:10:13 - 00:38:26:21
Unknown
Excellent. Jim, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It's been a real pleasure and I hope I hope we can talk again soon. Thank you. My pleasure. This episode of The Nature of Florida podcast was brought to you in part by the Phil Burn Foundation, the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida

00:38:26:24 - 00:38:43:14
Unknown
and Explica Media. If you're enjoying this podcast, remember to subscribe on our website. The Nature of Florida with Oscar Corral, Dot Bus, Broadcom. That's the nature of Florida with Oscar Corral, dot bus, Broadcom. Or find us on your favorite platform and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.