Rivers and Creeks

Florida’s largest rivers include the Apalachicola, Suwannee and the St. Johns. Then there is the Caloosahatchee that is really a canal and the River of Grass that doesn’t have any banks (not including levees). | Major water bodies | Estuaries and coast | Rivers and creeks | Lakes and ponds | Springs and swallets | Canals and levees | Sky and clouds | Florida’s water districts | Underlying aquifers

Second life of Kissengen Spring?
Search for the headwater source

The Peace River isn’t what it used to be.

For starters, its headwater source – Kissengen Spring – is gone.

Peace River’s then (1940-1955) and now (1995-2010)

The culprit?

Groundwater pumping associated with phosphate mining substantially lowered the water table in the 1950s which in turn reversed the direction of flow. No, the river didn’t start flowing north! By “reversed” I mean that the river isn’t recharged “up” from the groundwater any longer, but rather ends up leaking “down,” and quite prodigiously at times, into the aquifer instead.

Kissengen Spring flowed at 30 cubic feet per second (20 million gallons per day). That may not sound like much, but it was incredibly steady in the sense that it flowed all year round. That was particularly important during the seasonal spring drought when without it the Peace would run dry. It was its sole source of flow.

Peace River near Arcadia

The hydrograph above shows how in recent times the river routinely drops below 100 cfs, yet rarely did so when the spring was still intact. Work is underway to repair the river with an upstream reservoir called Hancock Lake and by strategically adding berms in the river bed to keep flow in the river from sinking down into the karst aquifer instead. (view article) The goal is to keep a minimum of 20-30 cfs in the river channel at all times.

Or in other words, replicate the flows of Kissengen Spring!

Watersheds of south Florida

Major Rivers of the US
And the watersheds that feed them

Watersheds famously …

Don’t obey jurisdictional lines.

Major Rivers and Watersheds of the United States

The reason? For one, most (or many) jurisdictional lines are straight whereas watersheds and rivers — at least in their natural state — abhor straight lines. Many a squiggly state line actually follow along the path of a river. The top of Kentucky, the bottom of Indiana and Ohio and the side of West Virginia are each formed by the Ohio River. Probably most famous in that regard is the southern boundary of Texas, as delineated by the Rio Grande. Mexico and Texas aren’t so much separated by the river as they are united by the Rio Grande Watershed (orange). The same principle applies on the northern boundary with the Red River. It flows north into Lake Winnepeg which is part of the larger Saskatchewan Basin that flows into St. James Bay.

Morale of the Story: Rivers and watersheds go hand in hand, and yes, they will cross over jurisdictional lines.

Mighty Susquehanna
And the dam that (tries to) control it

The upstream dam …

turns on and off throughout the day.

Looking upstream through the fog and snow to the Conowingo Dam

But it’s never enough to completely shut the river off. The Susquehanna Flats are wide. About a mile to be exact. This photo is taken about 2 miles downstream of the Conowingo Dam that was completed in 1928, coincidently the same year as the Tamiami Trai. So who would have ever thought: a thousand miles apart, the headwaters to Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades got cut off on the exact same year.

Floodplain features
Working river returns to nature

Hiking the Gunpowder River …

is a study in floodplain dynamics.

Cross section of the Gunpowder River Valley

Not just a single or simple valley that the stream sometimes overtops, a hike along the trail is a living textbook on the many features and geomorphic processes in action. Rapids for example usually occur where larger rock outcrops are visible on the hillside. And it’s not just a single channel. Also periodically present are yazoo tributaries, oxbow lakes, backswamps made soggier by logjam pools and dry meander scars that the river once cut out. But maybe my favorite feature is the older terraces that form a stairstep from the modern-day floodplain to the adjacent hillside. Today, the terraces are home to very large trees. So they haven’t flooded for quite some time. But how long? Was it a feature from the higher flow rates experienced in the waning days of the last ice age? Or has upstream Pretty Boy and Loch Raven Dams reduced river flows below a point that water makes it up onto that second step?

Another feature I didn’t show was the many archaeological remnants from the pioneer days. They too leave me to wonder: Today, the corridor is a nature preserve, but for the original settlers, it was a working river that powered many a mill.