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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
T SERIEDSNU I.66
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
published by BUREAU OF GEOLOGY
- SURFACE WATER FEATURES OF FLORIDA
L. J. Snell and W. E. Kenner
Prepared by the
U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
in cooperation with the
BUREAU OF GEOLOGY
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
The variety of surface-water features of Florida is the result
of the State's location in the subtropical zone between the
Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, its average rainfall of 53
inches, its relatively flat terrain, and the nature of its soils and
underlying rocks. The surface-water features include extensive
marshes and swamps, many streams, lakes, and ponds in
certain parts of the State, few streams in the Central
Highlands, and the extensive network of ditches and canals,
particularly in the southeastern part. Major streams and lakes
are listed in tables 1 and 2.
The great marshes and swamps, such as the Everglades, the
Big Cypress Swamp, and St. Johns marsh, the coastal marshes,
wooded flatlands and the other wetlands throughout the State
are the most typical and outstanding surface-water features.
Before man began to drain and develop the wetlands, they cov-
ered about half the State and exceeded the area of combined
total wetlands of 37 other States in 1955 (U. S. Department of
Agriculture, Yearbook of Agriculture, 1955.) These wetlands,
which have been the habitat of subtropical and tropical wildlife
in Florida, are continually being altered by the works of man
through vast networks of ditches and canals for the develop-
ment of land for citrus and other crops and for residential and
Another prominent surface-water feature is the large number
of lakes and ponds, 7,712 that are 10 or more acres in area and
19 larger than 6,400 acres (10 square miles). Lake Okeechobee is
the largest freshwater lake in the United States wholly within a
single State. Some lakes are connected to the deep artesian
aquifer and are called "sinkhole" lakes; some occupy depressions
that were shallow marine basins or bays in past geologic time;
others are underlain by peat or clay and are not well connected
with water-bearing formations. Some large lakes, such as Lake
Monroe and Lake George along the St. Johns River, are merely
wide reaches in a river. Levels of many lakes are controlled by
structures at their outlets.
Although rainfall and evapotranspiration are fairly evenly
distributed in the State, surface runoff varies in quantity from
place to place depending on the soil, the nature of the
underlying rock formations and the topography. Stream density
is low where downward movement of water to the limestone
formations is facilitated by thin or porous soils overlying the
limestone, as it is in the central ridge or highlands part of
Florida. Stream density in some areas is high, as represented in
the panhandle and part of southwest Florida. In the Everglades
and Big Cypress Swamp the water moves slowly in broad bands
to the sea.
Most of the drainage basins of some of the largest rivers in
Florida are in Alabama and Georgia. Some streams are almost
entirely spring-fed and have a well-sustained flow. The flow of
other streams consists largely of surface runoff and to a minor
extent of ground-water inflow from shallow sediments; the flow
of these varies from little or no flow during dry periods to flashy
and high flows during wet periods.
Most streams have low gradients and their flow is sluggish
because of the relatively flat terrain and low altitudes
characteristic of Florida. The St. Johns River, the longest
within the State, has an average fall of less than 0.1 foot per
mile in its 300-mile length. The topography is not favorable for
high dams or deep reservoirs. The low gradients of streams and
the many river-channel and other easily accessible lakes provide
Florida with extensive surface waters for recreation and for
small boat navigation.
The Florida Department of Natural Resources divides the
State into five regions comprising groups of river basins; the
surface-water features are discussed herein on that basis
although some features overlap. Of the five water management
districts that manage these river basins, two have been in
existence for many years and three were formed in 1973. The
basins are shown on the large map and the water management
districts are shown on the small map. The boundaries of the
districts do not coincide with basin boundaries.
The Northwest Region covers the panhandle of Florida. Major
streams enter the State from Albama and Georgia and include
the Apalachicola, Choctawhatchee, Escambia, Ochlockonee, and
Yellow Rivers. The general drainage pattern is dendritic and
the stream density is high. Valleys of tributary streams are
deeply incised and the flow somewhat flashy.
Few natural lakes exist except in Washington and Bay
counties; five lakes or impoundments of more than 5,000 acres
are in the region and small artificial ponds are numerous and are
usually contained by earthen dams. Tidal bays and lagoons
which line the entire coastline are now connected to form an
important intracoastal waterway.
Seven first magnitude springs, defined as those springs that
have an average flow of more than 100 ft3/s (cubic feet per
second), or 64,600000 gpd (gallons per day) are in the region.
They are Gainer Springs (14) in Bay County, Wacissa Springs
(4) in Jefferson County, Blue Springs (7) in Jackson County,
Wakulla Springs (3), River Sink Spring (12), and Kini Spring
(10) in Wakulla County, and Natural Bridge Spring (20) in Leon
County. The 21 major springs are numbered in order of
magnitude (average flow) and are indicated on map.
" 0 ~
SUWANNEE RIVER REGION
Low stream density and fairly low lake density are character-
istics of the Suwannee River Region where porous limestone at
or near the surface allows rainfall to infiltrate and to appear in
the river channels without the need for extensive surface
tributary systems. Six first magnitude springs and numerous
smaller springs are in the region. The first magnitude springs
are Blue Spring (17) in Madison County, Troy Springs (11) in
Lafayette County, Fannin (21) and Manatee Springs (8) in Levy
County, Falmouth Springs (16) in Suwannee County, and
Ichatucknee Springs (5) in Columbia County. Lakes are small
but marshlands are extensive in Lafayette, Dixie, and Gilchrist
counties in the lower Suwannee River basin and in Hamilton,
Columbia, and into Baker counties, where the marshlands are
extensions of Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp. The Suwannee
River is the nationally known "Swanee" River, which Stephen
Foster made famous. Streams are generally sluggish because
gradients are low.
The Southwest Region is marked by a dendritic stream
pattern, many small lakes and ponds, and numerous and
important marshlands which furnish recharge to the artesian
aquifer. The larger streams empty into relatively large bays on
the Gulf of Mexico; much of the coast is lined with lagoons.
The topography consists of low, level plains or marshlands
along the west side and rolling hills that reach altitudes above 200
feet along the basin divide in the Central Highlands. Stream
density and runoff vary from low in the highlands areas to some
of the highest in the State along the coast, where numerous
springs add to stream discharge.
Tsala Apopka Lake is the largest lake in the region and is
partly controlled. Four first magnitude springs are Rainbow
Springs (2) in Marion County, Chassahawitska (15) and
Homosassa (6) Springs in Citrus County, and Weekiwachee
Springs (9) in Hernando County. In addition the region contains
numerous second magnitude springs (springs with a flow of
between 10 and 100 ft3/s (0.28 to 2.8 m3/s) of which several are
within 10 miles of Tampa Bay.
Several streams have been impounded near the coast and
some wet areas have been drained for agriculture and for
residential sites. The Southwest Florida Water Management
District is the State regulatory agency responsible for managing
surface waters in most of the region.
Kissimmee-Everglades Region encompasses all of Florida
south of the St. Johns marsh and the Peace River divides, and
the Kissimmee River Basin, which drains the southern part of
the Central Highlands. Most of the region is less than 25 feet
above sea level, seasonally inundated except where drained by
ditches or canals. The most prominent wetlands are the
Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp. Urbanization and
agriculture have, however, been highly developed in the eastern
The largest streams, the Kissimmee and the Caloosahatchee
Rivers, have been dredged and modified, and their flows are
controlled. The Kissimmee contributes large flows to Lake
Okeechobee, the largest water storage reservoir in the Central
and Southern Florida Flood Control District. Controlled flows of
the Caloosahatchee River regulate the level of Lake
Okeechobee. Short streams drain the narrow coastal fringes;
sheet flow and broad sloughs move water through the
Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp into ill-defined tidal
channels along the Gulf and Florida Bay.
Lake Okeechobee, the largest fresh water lake, is Very
shallow. Lake Trafford, in Collier County, with an area of 1,490
acres, is one of the few larger lakes in the region; however,
many small lakes and ponds dot the marshlands. About a
quarter of Florida's lakes are in the Kissimmee River basin. The
Flood Control District manages the water in large diked
water-conservation areas covering about 1,350 square miles in
Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade counties to store excess water.
Eastward seepage and releases to coastal canals recharge the
shallow aquifers that are the sources of water for the populous
metropolitan areas of southeast Florida and southward releases
through spillways maintain water levels in Everglades National
Park. Beginning in the 1880's extensive areas east and south of
Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades have been drained and
diked for intensive use of the peat and muck lands.
THE ST. JOHNS RIVER REGION
The St. Johns River Region covers the eastern two-thirds of
peninsular Florida north of the St. Johns marsh in Indian River
County and includes the Oklawaha River basin, which is mostly
in the Central highlands. The land surface reaches altitudes
more than 250 feet above sea level, but much is less than 25
feet; lands below 40 feet are generally marshy.
MILES ABOVE MOUTH OF RIVER
PROFILE OF ST. JOHNS RIVER (1960 HIGH WATER)
The gradient in the St. Johns is so low that the river is
sluggish and affected by tides as far upstream as Lake Monroe.
161 miles from the mouth. Tide-induced reverse flow occurs and
strong upstream flow sometimes lasts several days. The river
flows successively through some of Florida's largest lakes
Matanzas River, Halifax River, Indian River, and Banana River
into which the many small coastal streams flow are salt-water
lagoons between the coast and the offshore barrier islands.
Stream density and runoff are very low in the central;
highlands because drainage is predominantly underground. An
example of low runoff is that of Orange Creek, which averages
only about 2.3 inches for the 1,110 square-mile drainage area,
low compared to the average of 14 inches for the State.
The Oklawaha River drains much of the highlands and lake
country of Florida. In addition to large lakes such as Apopka
Harris, and Orange, dozens are more than a thousand acres irt
area and more than aAhousand are smaller. The moderating
effect of the lakes on the water, coupled with the well-drained
rolling hills, make this area a belt of citrus production. Some
lake levels are controlled by outlet structures and some streams
have been dredged to improve capacity to carry flood waters.
First magnitude springs in the region include Silver Springs
(1), the largest in the United States, and Silver Glen Springs
(19) in Marion County, Blue Springs (13) in Volusia County, and
Alexander Springs (18) in Lake County; lesser springs are
numerous, mostly within 10 miles of the St. Johns River.
Marshes 'and swamps cover much of this region and tend to
reduce the extremes of flow as the marshes store excessive
precipitation and allow flood water to drain slowly. Drainage
and wetland reclamation for agriculture is carried on extensively
in the upper reaches of the Iasin; drainage for asideot,;.
developments is extensive near the Atlantic coast.
The length of the general coastline of Florida is 1,197 miles
the general tidal shoreline is 2,276 miles, and the detailed tida
shoreline is 8,426 miles (from U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
the Florida Handbook, 1966). (The general tidal shoreline
includes bays, sounds and other water bodies to points whert
they narrow to 3 miles; the detailed shoreline includes
waterbodies to the head of tide-water or where waters narrow
to 100 feet). This enormous shoreline frontage is an important
asset to Florida's economy although it is also a problem to the
agencies responsible for shoreline control of dredging, filling,
Streams, lakes and lagoons contributed much to the earl3
development of Florida. The slow-moving streams allowed entr3
to central areas and the lagoons offered protected waters tc
coastal shipping during hurricanes. Inland waterways and the
intracoastal waterways are show on the map. Lagoons have
been connected and channels deepened until a navigable channel
now extends along the entire east coast and about half of the
Commercial waterways in the interior include the St. Johns
River upstream to Lake Monroe; the St. Lucie canal anc
Caloosahatchee River, which cross the State through Laki
Okeechobee; the Apalachicola River from the Gulf to Jim,
Woodruff Dam; and short waterways in bays and estuaries. The
Cross-Florida Barge Canal is partly completed, from the Gulf tc
Dunnellon on the west, and from the St. Johns River to Rodman
pool on the east.
Florida Division of Water Resources
1969 Florida Lakes.
Ferguson. G. E.
1974 (and others) Springs of Florida: Florida Geol. Survey
Rosenau, Jack C. and Faulkner, Glen L.
1974 An Index to Springs of Florida; Florida Bur. Geol,
Map Series 63.
U.S. Geological Survey
1970 Water Resources Data for Florida, pt. 1, Surface
1966 The Florida Handbook.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
BUREAU OF GEOLOGY
Tnis public document was promulgated at a total
cost of $270.00 or a per copy cost of $.18 ior the
purpose of disseminating hydrologic data.
GE-_qORGIA ~ eSwampe
S GiLCH51i'jO LAC.UA
Regional Basin Boundaries (Division of Natural Resources)
Major Spring, Number listed in order of average flow.
Intracoastal and Inland Waterways
Dam, Lock and Dam, or Other Control Structure
View of St. Johns Marsh showing ditching and drainage
operations in Indian River County.
TABLE 2. Largest lakes in Florida. (larger than 10 square miles in area)
NAME COUNTY RIVERBASIN AREA
TABLE 1. Largest rivers in Florida. (by discharge, at gaging stations Indicated)
NAME AREA DISCHARGE REMARKS
(square miles) (dCs)
Apalachicola River near Blountstown 17,600 23,200 Drainage area is approximate.
Suwannee River near Wilcox 9,700 10,400 Includes Santa Fe River
St. Johns River at Palatka 7,300 8,000 Includes Oklawaha River Discharge
Choctawatchee River near Bruce 4,380 6,900
Escambia River near Century 3,820 5,900
Kissimmee River near Okeechobee 2,900 2,200 Drainage area is approximate.
Oklawaha River near Orange Springs 2,840 2,000
Withlacoochee River near Inglis 2,000 2,000 Data are approximate.
Santa Fe River near Fort White 1,080 1,670
Ochlockonee River near Bloxham 1,720 1,610
Withlacoochee River (north) 2,120 1,600
Chipola River near Altha 781 1,500
St. Marys River near Gross 1,360 1,300 Data are approximate.
Peace River at Arcadia 1,370 1,250
Yellow River at Milligan 624 1,120
Shoal River near Crestview 474 1,060
Note. Data are for period ending 1970, if available; the drainage area s ad discharges ilted are approximate
for some streams because of indefinite drainage divides and lowland overflows.
F"LOUiDA G3EOLOGIC SUFRVEQY MAP. SERIEEi S I