For thousands of years St. Joe Bay flourished as a primarily salt water ecosystem, with only small amounts of runoff from local rainfall entering the Bay. Waters were "Gin Clear" and expansive sea grass beds dominated the Bay Bottom, interspersed with clean sand and conch beds. The 75,000 acre Lake Wimico drainage basin and the 20,000 square mile Apalachicola River drainage basin flourished alongside, but not connected to, the St. Joe Bay ecosystem. These two primarily freshwater drainage basins collected, filtered, and fed exclusively into Apalachicola Bay and its marshes. This freshwater, and its valuable sediment, fed the oyster bar based ecosystems of Apalachicola Bay, which produced abundant quantities of oysters, shrimp , redfish, trout and many other species of wildlife.
In the early 1900's America was buzzing with industrial activity. The mighty Mississippi River was being channeled and dredged to produce more farmland. All of America's big rivers were being "Industrialized." Florida was no different. Napoleon Broward, then Governor of Florida, was draining the Everglades with huge dredges and canals. His words were ''Knock a hole in the wall of coral and let a body of water obey natural law and seek the level of the sea." The Panhandle was also in on the action, with the Intracoastal Waterway being dredged from the Mississippi River to Lake Wimico, a 17,000 acre lake that is the source of the Jackson River, here in Gulf and Franklin counties. The Jackson River drains into the Apalachicola River, Which completed a huge leg of the Intracoastal Waterway along the Gulf of Mexico and connected The Freshwater Lake Wimico and Apalachicola River drainage basins with the salt water environments of East bay, and in 1938, St. Joe Bay, again "letting a body of water obey natural law and seek the level of the sea." In effect, draining and making saline much of Lake Wimico and its Marsh.
We now know the consequences of these well intentioned, but environmentally disastrous projects. The Everglades have suffered catastrophic damage, and the State of Florida is spending billions of dollars to try and remedy a small part of the damages done. Here in the Panhandle, however, we have the unique opportunity to "turn back the clock" so to speak, and reverse the effects of these industrial projects that have caused so much damage to our State, at a relatively low cost.
The construction of a simple lock on the Intracoastal Canal in the vicinity of White City would separate the salt water ecosystems of St. Joe Bay and East Bay from the freshwater ecosystems of Lake Wimico and the Apalachicola River. This Lock would restore the natural water flow that existed for thousands of years before Man intervened and connected these two naturally separate environments with our Dredges and Canals. Our research shows that the Apalachicola River is losing over 10 percent of total water flow during high water events through this Canal. There have been over 1,200 days of recorded river flood (over 17 ft) in the last 40 years. The Canals have been there for over 100 years. This precious fresh water with its valuable sediment, essential for the oyster bar ecosystems of Apalachicola Bay, now becomes damaging stormwater runoff in St. Joe Bay, creating a massive sedimentation problem with corresponding turbidity issues that are killing the sea grass beds there.
The reverse is also happening. The Apalachicola River had 1,805 days below 2 foot River level readings in the last 20 years compared to 390 days in the previous 20. We contend that when the River is low, high tides at St. Joe Bay, and especially tropical weather systems, send salt water intruding into Lake Wimico, and eventually into the North end of the Apalachicola Bay Marsh. Sustained Southeast winds, especially those associated with storm surge, and sustained Northwest winds associated with cold fronts tend to "Flush" the Lake with salt water. Our research team just recorded a Massive "Flush" of these ecosystems due to Tropical Storm Nestor this past Saturday. Tens of thousands of acres of invaluable aquatic freshwater grasses so essential to wintering waterfowl and other wildlife have been replaced by an extended salt marsh and almost complete loss of these species!
While these calculations are important, it is essential to remember that the number it used to be was zero. There should be zero gallons of freshwater and zero tons of sediment leaving the Apalachicola River Floodplain, and zero gallons of freshwater and zero tons of sediment entering St. Joe Bay from the Apalachicola River floodplain, As well as zero gallons of saltwater entering Lake Wimico and the Apalachicola River from St. Joe Bay, and zero flow through Lake Wimico.
A lock may be simple, but it requires the will of the people to have it constructed. We need the local political leadership in our area, as well as our State Agencies, to recognize this problem and ask the Army Corps of Engineers to recognize if Study Authority exists to address this problem here in the Panhandle. This costs our County governments and State Agencies nothing, but alerts the Corps to the problem and hopefully sets the wheels in motion to resolve this critical issue.
YOU CAN HELP!! Our organization, Baysaversfl.org, wants to partner with YOU to see this project to its completion. We are a grassroots organization, and we need more members. When we talk to Politicians and Agency Heads and show them our registered list of members, they realize Baysavers is a lot of votes!
Only by joining can you affect change. Join us at Baysaversfl.org It’s free
Together we CAN make a difference.