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St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve - Restoring Natural Hydrology

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Florida has lost more than 50 percent (9 million acres) of its natural wetlands in the past 200 years. Most of this loss may be attributed to wetland drainage and filling. The natural flow of water across a landscape of natural wetlands is critical to the quality of water finding its way into our rivers, bays, and oceans.

A priority at the Buffer Preserve is to restore hydrologic function to natural areas by removing disturbances that impact natural water flow or by repairing damage done to the landscape by various activities. Through ditch plugging, road removal or alteration with water crossings, and repair to fire-plow scarred wetlands, the natural slower movement of water is restored. The slower movement of "sheet-flow" water across the landscape naturally polishes the water and allows for slow release into nearby water bodies. Sheet flow, combined with a landscape with restored groundcover, conserves soil and decreases turbidity.

Most of Florida's native habitats are precisely adapted to natural drainage patterns and seasonal water fluctuations. Depth of the water table and the timing and length of flooding frequently determine what type of natural community occurs on a site. Even minor changes to natural hydrology can result in the loss of plant and animal species from a site. Disturbances like ditches, berms, roads, stabilized lake levels, and excessive water use can have severe and unwanted impacts on natural lands by altering both the amount of water present and the timing of its availability.

Development adjacent to the Buffer Preserve is often coupled with drastic changes to the landscape (e.g. clearing of vegetation, addition of fill dirt, construction of drainage ditches, impoundment from road construction, etc.) which often benefits the owner of the parcel but may also contribute toward bigger problems at a neighborhood or landscape level.

The Buffer Preserve is seeking to complete a comprehensive hydrologic assessment and restoration plan that identifies habitat restoration needs. Based on this plan, the Buffer Preserve will work to restore hydrology to the fullest extent possible and maintain the restored condition to protect water quality and quantity on the Buffer Preserve and adjacent waterbodies and watersheds. Staff are also working to develop a plan in coordination with the Northwest Florida Water Management District for the monitoring of ground and surface waters.

Last Modified:
February 24, 2023 - 3:06pm

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