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Final Report: Executive Summary

A local citizens advocacy group, Withlacoochee Aquatic Restoration (W.A.R., Inc.) contracted with Wetland Solutions, Inc. (WSI) to conduct a three-phase environmental assessment and restoration planning effort in response to perceived ecosystem changes and environmental degradation in the Lower Withlacoochee River. The study area included the Withlacoochee River from just upstream of Dunnellon and the Rainbow River confluence, downstream through Lake Rousseau and the historic river channel to the Gulf of Mexico, and proceeded in three phases:

Phase 1
was a review of existing environmental conditions and data relevant to the health of the Lower Withlacoochee River. Key among the preliminary conclusions was that the Lower Withlacoochee River has been significantly altered by human activities over the past 100+ years. Major impacts include historic timber extraction, dredging, ditching, current and historic phosphate and limerock mining, construction of dams and spillways, construction of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, regional groundwater extractions, aquatic weed management in Lake Rousseau, and agricultural and urban development in the surface and groundwater basin that supplies water to the river.  

Phase 2
was conducted to update environmental information through current conditions and to fill existing data gaps, including collection of environmental data over a four-year period from November 2015 through October 2020. Monthly monitoring took place from November 2015 through October 2017; and supplemental quarterly monitoring was conducted from October 2019 through October 2020. For Phase 2 the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) provided staff support and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) provided all analytical chemical analyses. Sampling of fish populations in the Lower Withlacoochee River was conducted by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff.

 

• Phase 3
is the conclusion of this study, including preparation and publication of this report. This report describes the existing environmental impairments that negatively affect the environmental health of the Lower Withlacoochee River Study Area and recommends practical management and capital improvement actions that will reduce or eliminate impairments and increase overall environmental, economic, and aesthetic vitality to the project study area. 

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