Raze the Rodman Dam now
and free the Ocklawaha River
A lake or a river that's the choice Floridi- very few who have a financial interest in keeping
ans face in the matter of what to do with Rod- the artificial lake in place.
man Dam on the Ocklawaha River in north cen- Planners at the University of Florida have
tral Florida. said it would cost $4.5 million to $8.5 million to
It ought to be no contest. The state already remove the dam.
has lakes aplenty, and the region at issue is par- But there are bigger costs from maintaining
ticularly puddled with them. the impoundment. The state would be waging a
Within a short drive of the dam there is Lake perpetual battle against weeds and silt that choke
George, a giant body of water in the Ocala Na- the lake, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars
tional Forest. Then there's Mud Lake, Cresent annually to keep it from becoming a 10,000-acre
Lake, Lochloosa Lake, Lake Kerr, Orange Lake; sewer.
the list goes on and on. The area is dotted with There have already been huge fish kills in the
hundreds of lakes of all shapes and sizes. And the pool, resulting from the nutrients that accumu-
beauty of these lakes is that, left to their own late in the dammed water. In years past, those
devices, they pretty much take care of them- nutrients flowed into the St. Johns River, sustain-
selves, although it is possible to ruin any body of ing its fish population.
water if enough people crowd around it with Now the state must resort to water draw-
houses, fertilizer, sewage and the like. downs, herbicide spraying and other costly mea-
sures to keep Rodman usable. It will cost millions
A costly pool to keep this giant fish bowl free of weeds, algae
and silt. And the cost will be continuous, as long
So this area needs an artificial, temperamen- as the lake exists.
tal, high-maintenance lake like it needs a hurri- Those favoring the dam point to money to be
cane. made from an active fishing business that has
But that is what we have in the 10,000-acre grown up around the lake. But the area would
pool trapped behind Rodman Dam, near Palatka, make money from a restored river as well, be-
a fake lake that is part of the dismal legacy of cause it would open up possibilities for canoeing,
the pork-barrel boondoggle known as the Cross- hiking, camping, and river fishing. Hunters, too,
Florida Barge Canal. would benefit, because the draining would free
One good thing you can say about President up 10,000 acres of habitat for game animals such
Richard Nixon he stopped the barge canal. In as turkey, deer and squirrels.
1971, he ordered a halt to construction. And Con- One fishing group, North Florida Fly Fisher-
gress deauthorized the project in 1990. So now men, is on record in favor of removing the dam,
the state is grappling with the problem of what to because it obstructs the migration of striped bass
do with the remains of this grandiose scheme. and mullet into the Ocklawaha and Silver Rivers.
On the plus side, the canal tied up a 110-mile The dam also blocks manatees from migrating up
strip of wooded river shore from coast to coast, to warm springs near Ocala.
protecting it from development for decades. The
state now has the chance to establish a long, pris- Public works casualties
tine park along the Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha
and St. Johns rivers. In 1971, the Florida Game and Fresh Water
On the negative side, the barge canal nincom- Fish Commission recommended the river be re-
poops got far enough along to do some damage, stored, saying it represented 10 percent of the
and it will take money to put things right. But state's wild river miles that could be navigated
maintaining the dam and pool has its own costs, by a motor boat, and the state already had lost
and on balance, restoring the river makes the 1,500 miles of rivers to public works projects.
most sense, environmentally and economically. Now, regrettably, the 21-member Canal Lands
The central question is whether Rodman Dam Advisory Committee has voted to give this dam a
and the pool should be scrapped to let the Ockla- three-year reprieve. If their advice is taken by
waha River rebound. The answer is yes. the governor, Cabinet and Legislature, the citi-
Last week an advisory panel voted to let the zens will have to pay for more dilly-dallying, with
dam remain in place while the St. Johns River the risk that this stupid idea will survive to soak
Water Management District spends three years the public for decades to come.
studying the question. This is a waste, and it ap- Forget this study. Get rid of the dam. And the
pears to be a purely political move to placate the sooner the better.