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Ocklawaha River

The Florida Wildlife Federation remains committed to the restoration of the Ocklawaha River by way of partially breaching the Rodman Dam. Our involvement with the Reunite the Rivers Coalition is rooted in the goal of restoring 217 miles of interconnected ecosystems, enhancing water quality, and providing critical habitat for wildlife. Restoration is essential for the long-term ecological and economic health of central and northeast Florida.


Our goal to restoring the Ocklawaha River will revitalize the iconic Great Florida Riverway, a 217-mile system that links historic Silver Springs to the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers. Central to this endeavor is the proposal to breach a portion of the Rodman Dam, a move that promises to rejuvenate four key ecosystems: the Ocklawaha River, Silver Springs, the lower St. Johns River, and the coastal Atlantic Ocean.

This initiative, stretching from Lake Apopka to Jacksonville, will foster the restoration of 50 springs and three rivers while benefiting 12 Florida counties. Beyond its ecological significance, this project bolsters Florida’s tourism industry and removes a significant barrier to connecting the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Breaching the dam will enhance water quality, reinstate vital migratory routes for fish and manatees, and revitalizes fisheries in the lower St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers, with the added potential to provide crucial warm water habitat for a significant portion of Florida’s manatee population.

Amidst growing urgency, the call for action reverberates louder than ever: Restoration Can’t Wait – The Time is Now! For over half a century, the Rodman Dam, a relic of the abandoned Cross Florida Barge Canal project, has inflicted ecological harm on Silver Springs, the Ocklawaha River, and the St. Johns. With its creation, thousands of acres of floodplain forests were submerged, along with numerous springs and miles of the Ocklawaha River. Despite the cessation of the ill-fated canal, the dam persists, obstructing the natural flow of these interconnected waterways. The imperative to breach the dam looms large, promising the restoration of vital habitat for manatees, the resurgence of migratory fish populations, and the reconnection of three river ecosystems and Silver Springs. This historic opportunity to revive the Great Florida Riverway beckons, offering renewed hope for anglers, paddlers, and conservationists alike, marking a decisive step toward reclaiming the natural heritage of the Sunshine State.


The vision of reuniting the Silver, Ocklawaha, and St Johns Rivers and restoring the flow of water to the way nature intended has been decades in the making. It is important to remember our Florida history as we move towards a future where restoration returns thriving habitats, biodiversity, and community.

Initiated in the 1930s, the Cross Florida Barge Canal’s construction began in earnest in the 1960s. Take a journey with us through time, leading to the present-day benefits of restoring lost springs and reuniting the rivers for Florida’s plants, wildlife, and people.

View Timeline of Ocklawaha

Benefits of Restoration

1. New Life for the Lost Springs

The Ocklawaha River historically received crystal clear, temperate spring water from at least 20 freshwater springs. Today, these springs are submerged beneath artificially high water levels under the murky Rodman pool. Elizabeth Abbott described one of the lost springs in 1971 as a “blue crystal pool” where fishermen marveled at the quality and quantity of the fish, including mullet, catfish, and bass. There is hope that the springs are not completely beyond repair and can one day be brought back to life with Ocklawaha restoration.

2. Return of Wildlife Habitat

Diverse wildlife, from the freshwater eel to the Florida black bear, historically inhabited the Ocklawaha River and surrounding forest. Restored waterways and forests would lead to expanded habitat and the return of flora and fauna that together make a thriving ecosystem.  A connected river system would return natural migration patterns for freshwater eel and migratory fish like shad, striped bass, channel catfish, and mullet. It would allow manatees to access warm water springs critical to their survival in the winter months. Importantly, restored flows would improve growing conditions, seed dispersal, and pollination for submerged aquatic vegetation, an essential food source and habitat for many marine and freshwater species and a key component of improving water quality.

An underwater photo of a manatee.

3. Access to Recreation

A vast expanse of forested wetland lies underneath the current Rodman pool.  Along with the springs, 7,500+ acres of cypress forest have been lost, and with it, opportunities for hikers, anglers, and nature enthusiasts to enjoy along the Florida Trail. Restoration would bring new life to the forested wetlands and return the ‘Sequoias of the South’ to their former glory.

Residents of the River

Reuniting the St. Johns, Ocklawaha and Silver Rivers would bring benefits to several wildlife species like manatees, alligators, shortnose sturgeon, and many more. Restoration provides the best chance of returning migratory fish such as striped bass, channel catfish, American shad, and American eels to the ecosystem.