Origin of Surface Water in Florida

Material Information

Origin of Surface Water in Florida
Florida Water REsources Study Commission


Subjects / Keywords:
Lake Okeechobee ( local )
Surface water ( jstor )
Lakes ( jstor )
Rain ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


Richard Hamann's Collection - Origin of Surface Water in Florida
General Note:
Box 12, Folder 3 ( Florida Water Resources Study Commission - Reports of Major Committees - 1956 ), Item 16
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text

For review only :aot for release

Preliminary Report

of the

Committee on Surface Water

of the


September, 1956

Committee Members:

A. O. Patterson, Chairman

B. F. Buie-
Jim Counselman
W. J. Eichelberger

T. C. Skinner

Angelo Tabita
R. L. Taylor

H. R. Wilber, M.D.

U. S. Geological Survey,
Surface Water Branch
Florida State University
Game & Fresh Water Fish Comm.
Florida Section, American
Society of Agricultural Engrs.
Florida Section, American
Society of Agricultural Engrs.
Corps of Engineers
Central & South Florida Flood
Control District
Florida Wildlife Federation

I __ _


Surface water is water in that phase of the hydrologic cycle where it ap-

pears in liquid form on the surface of the earth. It includes water occurring in

streams, lakes, ponds, canals, bays, and oceans. Water that seeps out of the

ground and issues from springs becomes surface water as soon as it appears at the

surface. Water moving from one surface body to another through pipes or man-made

conduits, even though underground, is considered to be surface water.

The importance of having adequate water supplies is well known. Not so

well known are the benefits to be derived by having, as Florida has, much of the

water supplies in the form of surface water. Surface water bodies can do much to

temper the climate of a region. They allow navigation and power generation.

Boating, fishing, and allied recreational activities are possible only in areas so


The economic gain to an area where surface water is plentiful can be tre-

mendous. The establishment and growth of communities and even large cities can

be traced directly to the existence of surface water features nearby.

The value of a water feature depends upon the purpose or purposes for

which it is used and how much use is made of it. Any use at all presupposes some

knowledge of the feature. As the use of a water body increases, more and more

knowledge of it is accumulated. As more and more prospective users learn of the

water body and of its characteristics it is used more and its value increases.

Knowing the flow characteristics of streams may prevent unnecessary ex-

penditures in the design of roads and bridges. Lake and stream stage data save

inillions of dollars annually by preventing the construction and subsequent loss of

homes and other structures in areas of infrequent but recurrent flooding.


_ ___


The water in Florida comes from four sources: rainfall over the state;

streams flowing in from other states; underground flow from other states; and wa-

ter flowing inland from the ocean. On the average Florida receives 150 billion

gallons of water per day from rainfall and another 25 billion gallons per day

from other states via surface streams. Neglecting any water that comes into Flor-

ida through underground formations or moves in from the ocean, this makes a total

of around 175 billions of gallons per day, on the average.


Florida's surface water, in its efforts to reach the sea, has established

itself into 12 large river basins and innumerable smaller ones. It is stored --

we might say temporarily, since it is continually being depleted and replenished

-- in upwards of 30,000 lakes throughout the state as well as in the stream chan-

nels. Reference to Figure 1 will give one an idea of the distribution of the

larger streams and lakes. In addition to the fresh water bodies of the interior,

many bays and lagoons lie along the coast of Florida and add to the usable pro-

tected surface waters of the state.

The majority of the lakes in Florida lie within the peninsular section.

Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the state and the second largest fresh

water lake in the United States. At a normal stage this lake covers some 700

square miles. Other large lakes include Lake George, Lake Apopka, Lake Kissimmee,

and Lake Istokpoga. The usefulness of many of Florida's lakes is enhanced by

their being connected by natural channels. Lakes in the St. Johns River system

are examples. In some instances, where natural channels were absent, lakes have

been connected by canals. Such canalization is usually done as a water control



. -------- -- -- _^_ .- ^_ -- .- -- ^- ^ ^

measure but it permits the passage of boats and increases the recreational use of

the lakes. One example is the chain of lakes in the Winter Haven area that have

been thus utilized.

There are large fluctuations in the rate of flow and in the amount of wa-

ter that is stored in the lakes and streams. The variation in storage and runoff

assumes a pattern very similar to the rainfall pattern with, of course, some lag.

On the average in peninsular Florida, the lowest water levels occur in May. Flow

and levels increase under the influence of the summer rains, which usually begin

in June, and the levels continue to increase to a maximum in September or October,

after which there is a steady decline until the following May. The pattern is

significantly different in the northwestern part of Florida. Here the lowest flows

usually occur in November and the highest flows occur in March. These conditions
are illustrated graphically in Figure 2 and Figure 3, which show by months the

normal discharge of the Kissinmee River near Okeechobee and the Shoal River near

i Crestview. Figure 4, which shows the maximum, minimum and average monthend ele-

vations for selected lakes, indicates the variation in lake levels that have been

experienced. The variation of the actual discharge from the normal discharge of

the Kissimmee River near Okeechobee since 1931 is shown in Figure 5.

The relatively low relief of the land surface of peninsular Florida is con-
ducive to the formation of slow moving, meandering streams connected to or passing

through numerous lakes. The stream gradients are usually slight with surface

slopes as low as 0.07 foot per mile. The many lakes in the river systems act as

reservoirs reducing the severity of flooding in wet seasons as well as sustaining

the flow in dry seasons.

In the northern and northwestern parts of the state the land surface shows

more relief and stream gradients are somewhat steeper than in the peninsula. The

Shoal River, for example, has a fall of about 3 feet per mile. Lakes are not as




numerous and short-term variations in the flow of the streams are more pronounced.

The flow map showing average flows(Figure 6) gives a general idea of the

movement of surface water in Florida. This map shows the estimated average flow of

various streams in the state. Although average values are often misleading, it is

of interest to note the small flows in the peninsular section of the state. This

is largely a result of the excessive losses from evaporation and transpiration.

Figures 7 and 8 show the flow maps for the months of March, 1944 and October,

1953 to illustrate the variations of surface flow that are experienced. The esti-

mates were based on records collected by the U. S. Geological Survey at gaging

sites throughout the state.


The flow of water from a spring represents a loss to the ground water res-

ervoir and a gain to the surface water component of the hydrologic cycle. Flor-

ida's springs have long been considered important to the tourist industry and the

recreational interests, but spring flows serve other useful functions as well. For

example, springs furnish many surface streams with their only substantial supplies

of water during dry periods and make surface water available for municipal, indus-

trial, navigational, or agricultural use.

The amount of water issuing from springs of all sizes in the state has been

estimated to average 3,700 million gallons per day. Like other phases of the water

cycle, though, this rate of water movement is not uniform. During the periods

when rainfall is inadequate and the ground water reservoir is not being recharged

at a sufficient rate, the quantity of water available for spring flow decreases.

While the fluctuations of spring flow are not as explosive as the rate of flow in

most surface streams, the changes are significant. Depletion of ground storage as

a partial result of low rainfalls is illustrated by the flow data of Table 1. Most


_ _

of the spring flows listed show significantly reduced rates during the summer of

1956. The gross reduction from the average of past flows from the 9 springs of

Table 1 is 77 per cent.

TABLE 1 Comparison of Past and Present Flows from Selected Springs in Florida.

All Values are in Millions of Gallons Daily.

Scoring Past Flow* 1956 FlowE

Ichatucknee Springs 216 162
Weekiwachee Springs 102 84
Sulphur Springs 34 22
Rainbow Springs 452 363
Silver Springs 500 349
Crystal Springs 42 32
Kissengen Springs 14 0
Blue Springs 104 107
Wakulla Springs 183 146

* Average of 49 or more individual flow measurements prior to 1947. Sources

Fla. Geological Survey Bulletin No. 31.

** Individual flow measurement made during April or May of 1956. Sources U.S.

Geological Survey.


i -- -- -


Large areas in Florida are subject to seasonal flooding since the natural

stream channels are inadequate and cannot remove the excess rainfall during the

wet seasons. The topography, particularly in central and southern Florida, is

very flat and rainfall often remains on the land for long periods unless it is re-

moved by drainage works. The largest floods of record have resulted from intense

rainfall during and immediately following tropical storms, or from prolonged per-

iods of rainfall. Florida is in the path of tropical hurricanes that originate in

the equatorial doldrums and move in from the Atlantic and Caribbean on curving

paths at speeds of 10 to 40 miles an hour. The destructive forces of these storms

are the winds whirling counter-clockwise about the storm center at velocities

reaching over 100 miles an hour. The majority of these storms strike the state

from an easterly or southeasterly direction, although hurricanes of lesser inten-

sity approach through the Yucatan Channel and cross the Gulf of Mexico to strike

Florida from the southwest or west. The most dangerous season includes August,

September and October, although tropical storms have been experienced as late as

November. The hurricane that struck Miami and the Lake Okeechobee area in 1926

caused severe property damage and large loss of life at Moore Haven, when waters

of Lake Okeechobee were driven over that town. In 1928, a similar but more de-

structive storm struck from Palm Beach to the Lake Okeechobee area, where wind

driven lake waters overflowed the southern lake shores and drowned 2,300 people,

producing one of the greatest disasters in the history of the country. The two

hurricanes of 1947, which struck the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee areas after a

long period of heavy rainfall, caused large property damage.

The accompanying map (Figure 9) shows the approximate areas in Florida

which are or have been periodically flooded. Of the total land area in the state

of Florida, it is estimated that about 20 per cent or over 7,000,000 acres is subject

-- 6 -

to damaging flooding. In the report to the legislature dated 29 March 1949, the

Water Survey and Research Division of the State Board of Conservation estimated

that frequently recurring droughts and floods have caused damages to average at

least $25,000,000 annually in Florida. The unprecedented floods of 1947, alone,

caused about $59,700,000 damages in central and southern Florida. During that

flood which lasted for over four months in many areas, about 3,500,000 acres of

usable lands were inundated. With the increased development in the central and

southern Florida area, the annual flood damages would exceed $10,000, 'i The

Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project is expected, when completed, to

eliminate 80 per cent of the recurring damages in the central and southern Florida


The Suwannee River with its principal tributaries, the Sante Fe, Alapaha

and Withlacoochee Rivers drains an area of over 9,500 square miles. The basin ex-

perienced great floods in 1912, 1928 and 1948 with the flood of 1948 being the

most severe. In that flood, damages were distributed over a large area extending

from southern Georgia to the mouth of the river near Cedar Key, Florida. All

highway and rail traffic between west Florida and east and south Florida was de-

toured through Georgia for about three weeks. Total damages were estimated at



Adequate water supplies are vital to the development and growth of Florida.

Much of the state of Florida is subject to lengthy periods of little or no rain-

fall. Droughts occur practically every year in many parts of the state. In gen-

eral, a drought may be defined as a period in which rainfall has been so deficient

that vegetation and water supplies have been adversely affected. Although it is

recognized that droughts are frequent in Florida, very little data are available


_ ____

as to the severity of droughts in terms of actual losses to agriculture or other

water users.

Deficiency in precipitation is the prime cause of drought. Although

droughts may be more effectively measured by the degree of existing soil moisture

or by stream flow and ground water levels, such records are relatively short in

comparison with the available records of rainfall. It may be presumed that the

intensity of a drought would be proportional to the amount and duration of rain-

fall deficiency. Reference to the section on occurrence and movement of water in

Florida discloses the periods of severe rainfall deficiency. In that section it is

shown that drought periods and severity vary in different locations. Large defici-

ency in rainfall at one area does not necessarily indicate a widespread drought

area in view of erratic rainfall distribution, particularly during the dry season.

Droughts need not necessarily be concurrent with periods of rainfall deficiency.

If rainfall during the following wet season is normal or below normal, water lev-

els in the succeeding dry season may even go lower than in the previous dry period.

The 1954-56 period is a prime example. Although rainfall deficiencies in any one

12-month period are not of record proportions, the prolonged nature of the defici-

ency coupled with less than normal rains during the intervening wet season is re-

suiting in one of the severest droughts of record. In many sections of the state,

particularly in central and northwest Florida, water levels are the lowest of re-


In an analysis for one of the major agricultural areas in Highlands and

Glades Counties, Florida, it was found that drought conditions occurred practically

every year. The 1942-43 drought which was quite severe was estimated to have a 1

year in 5 frequency based on rainfall records. If the average potential develop-

ment had been realized on the 195,000 acres of agricultural land considered, the

5-year drought would have caused over $1,000,000 damage. It was estimated that


1 j ______ _._ -.. -- "


the annual drought damages would amount to about $500,000 on that agricultural

land if no supplemental water supply was available.

Much of the data and discussion on the above were obtained from U. S. Geo-

logical Survey Water Supply Paper No. 1255, entitled Water Resources of Southeast-

ern Florida.


In the long run, the amount of water that leaves Florida equals that whIL-

enters. We have seen that the movement of surface water through the state aver-

ages some 175 billions of gallons per day. This tremendous amount of water exits

in several ways. The majority of the water that leaves is evaporated or trans-

pired into the atmosphere. Some water goes to the dea by seepage and underground

flow. Additional amounts are turned into steam in industrial plants and some is

discharged directly into the ocean by pulp mills and municipal sewerage systems.

From a legal point of view surface waters may be classified under two or

more categories. For the purposes of this study, two very broad categories will

suffices (1) diffused surface water-or that portion of surface water spread in a

diffused state before it reaches natural watercourses with well defined banks and

beds, and (2) surface water which has reached and become part of natural water-

courses with well defined banks and beds.

Generally speaking, when rain falls the greater amount of the resulting

water is evaporated or transpired into the atmosphere, and some passes through the

soil and underground strata and becomes either a part of streamflow or ground

water supplies. A small portion, probably less than 25%, moves across the land

in the form of diffused surface water.

_ ~1

Although this type of runoff is only a fraction of total rainfall, it

nevertheless forms a considerable and very valuable natural resource.

Very little is known at present about the relative volume of this supply;

and, therefore, too little is known about its present or potential value for

beneficial purposes. And in this regard, not enough is known about its behavior.

It is known that much diffused surface water is caught in artificial or

natural storage areas and is used for recreation, livestock water, irrigation,

and other purposes. In the last few years in Florida, many farmers and other

landowners have built ponds for livestock water and for fish production and other

forms of recreation. Some manage natural storage areas for these purposes.

Others have constructed irrigation reservoirs. Many of these water areas catch

and hold diffused surface water for the beneficial uses intended. Some, however,

are built on streams and store surface waters of the second category mentioned

above. In the case of some irrigation reservoirs, underground resources are

tapped. r

On the other hand, diffused surface waters may do much harm, also. For

example, they may move to and stand upon lower areas, and in so doing they may

cause damage to crops, pastures, buildings, highways, and other installations.

A considerable part of the drainage work done thus far in Florida has been to

provide relief in such situations, and much remains to be done in this regard.

Diffused surface waters moving uncontrolled across the land often can be

the cause of serious erosion problems. And resulting silt and other debris can

in turn cause damage to lower lying lands, stream channels, or drainage canals.

Some indication of the extent to which diffused surface waters are being

put to beneficial use is given by Figure 10. This map shows the number of farm

ponds and irrigation reservoirs which have been constructed with help from the


S. .4 k .. ...-

Soil Conservation Service. As of 1956 the number in Florida totaled 2591. These

structures have the capacity to store for use some $700 million gallons.

About 23 per cent of the surface water moves to the ocean via surface

channels. In its transit it forms many rivers and lakes in Florida and keeps them

in existence. Such waters may be said to fall into the second category mentioned

above -- that of surface waters in natural water courses with well defined banks

and beds. This water, averaging some 40 billions of gallons per day, is of utmost

importance to the state. The course it takes in reaching the sea, how rapidly

it gets there, the bodies where it is temporarily stored, and its fitness for

various uses, determine its value to the state as a natural resource.

The geographical distribution of surface flows in natural watercourses is

extremely poor regardless of the large quantities involved. Of the estimated 40

billion of gallons per day, more than 88 per cent of the flow is found in only 5

rivers the Apalachicola, the Choctamhatchee, the Escaabia, the Suwannee, and the

St. Johns Rivers.

The flow maps show the relative amounts leaving the state via its rivers

and canals.


The behavior of water can be separated into that which has happened in the

past and that which we believe will happen in the future. A later section will

deal with the methods used in predicting the future behavior of the water; this

section deals with the past behavior.

Prerequisites to a fund of knowledge of what has occurred up to the pre-

sent is that the events were recorded as they occurred and that the records of the

events have been preserved and are available for perusal. Information on how the

- 11 -

water was behaving has been collected through the years by various groups, includ-

ing federal and state agencies, private companies, and individuals. Some records

have been well preserved; others have been lost or destroyed. Much of the inform-

ation has been disseminated in published form; much of it is retained in the files

of the collecting groups. Federal agencies that collect surface water information

at the present time include the U. S. Geological Survey, the Corps of Engineers,

the U. S. Weather Bureau, and the U. S. Agricultural Research Service. The U. S.

Coast and Geodetic Survey collects information on the coastal waters of the state.

The primary function of the Surface Water Branch of the U. S. Geological

Survey is to collect and publish information on the surface waters of the 48

states, Alaska and Hawaii. Funds furnished by the state are matched dollar for

dollar from federal funds to carry on the work of this agency in Florida. As of

June 30, 1956, the U. S. Geological Survey was operating 129 streamflow stations

and nearly 200 water-level stations in the state.

Surface water information is collected in an effort to provide a continu-

ous inventory of the water. The job is to answer the questions, "Where is the

water?"; "Where is it going?"; and "How fast is it getting there?". The first two

questions are answered geographically by maps and charts showing the lakes, streams,

canals, and the like. Volumetrically, these questions are answered by information

gathered at water-level and streamflow stations.

Ordinarily a water-level station consists of a float-operated instrument,

installed near the bank of a lake or stream, which continuously records on a chart

the height of the water surface. Often, where fluctuations are not rapid, the

station consists of a so-called staff gage mounted in the water in such a manner

that an observer may read and record the height of the surface at intervals.

To obtain a record of stream flow is somewhat more complicated. The most

useful one gives the discharge or rate of flow past the station each day. To

- 12 -

obtain this type of record, a water-level gage is installed in the stream and a

daily record of the lavel obtained. The rate of flow, usually reported in cubic

feet per second (cfs) is measured periodically with a current meter. The relation

between the height of the water level and the rate of flow is determined and the

daily discharge is then computed.

The collection of surface water records in Florida by the U. S. Geological

Survey began about the turn of the century; however, it was not until 1930, when an

office of the Survey was established in Florida, that the amount of information

collected was significant. Since 1930 the scope of the work has increased greatly

in keeping with the ever-increasing importance of surface water to the state. Fig-

ure 11 shows the location of stations at which daily discharge records are being

collected and the major stream basins of Florida. In addition there are records

of 44 stations at which periodic or occasional discharge measurements are made in

the state.

Table 1 gives maximum, minimum, and average values of flows recorded in

selected rivers of Florida. It is of interest to note the extremes displayed by

the maxima and minima.

- 13 -

I _

TABLE 1 Flow of Selected Rivers of Florida.


Escambia River
Pine Barren Creek
Coldwater Creek
Shoal River
Alaqua Creek
Choctawhatchee River
Econfina Creek
Chipola River
Telogia Creek
Aucilla River
Econfina River
Suwannee River
Santa Fe River
St. Marys River
N. Fork Black Creek
Oklawaha River
St. Johns River
Withlacoochee River
Rocky Creek
Blackwater River
Econlockhatchee River
Manatee River
Peace River
Miakka River
Kissimmee River
Fisheating Creek
Apalachicola River


near Century
near Barth
near Milton
near Crestview
near DeFuniak Springs
near Bruce
near Bennett
near Altha
near Bristol
at Lamont
near Perry
at Branford
near Ft. White
near Macclenny
near Middleburg
near Ocala
near Christmas
near Holder
near Sulphur Springs
near Knights
near Chuluota
near Bradenton
at Arcadia
near Sarasota
near Okeechobee
at Palmdale
at Chattahoochee

- -


- 14 -



in cu. ft./sec.)
Average Minimum

6,243 600
123 60
533 197
1,064 263
121 27
7,133 1,480
532 366
1,501 360
135 28
131 0
89.6 2.8
6,260 1,530
1,600 670
652 12
169 3.6
406 33
1,358 0
1,106 144
27.8 0.4
99.6 0.7
259 0.44
100 0.6
1,257 37
253 0
2.035 231
267 0
22,190 5,120


In nearly every case where man becomes concerned with surface water he

must make a prediction as to how it will act in the future. In the design of

bridges, for example, the designer wants as estimate of the maximum flow and high-

est stage that will occur; in the design of an intake structure, he wishes to

know the lowest stage that is expected. If a stream is to be used to supply a wa-

ter plant, he wishes to know what the stream is likely to do so that he may pro-

vide the proper reservoir capacity.

Predictions, if they are to be reliable, must be based on past records

and, in general, the longer and more complete the past record, the more reliable

the prediction. Unfortunately, many predictions must be basedjon very short re-

cords because the need was not recognized at the time the record should have begun.

A simple method of predicting is to assume that the worst condition that

has happened in the period of record will happen again in the future. If a more

accurate and more detailed prediction is required, statistical methods are gener-

ally used. These methods have the further advantage of being able to indicate the

probable accuracy of their predictions.

A simple but useful device is the duration curve. In Figure 12 the stage

record of Lake Hatchineha near Haines City has been rearranged to show the per cent

of time (in the period 1942-1955) that the water was at or above various eleva-

tions. For example, 39 per cent of the time it was at or above 52 feet; 95 per cent

of the time it was at or above 49 feet. A valid assumption is that this curve re-

flects what probably will happen in the future, barring drastic changes in the

channels that lead into or out of this lake.

- 15 -


Topographic maps have broad fields of application and are of considerable

value to anyone making use of the land. Although such maps do not constitute an

integral portion of the water resources of Florida, they are neededni',combittson

with problems of irrigation, drainage, run-off, water diversions, deliniation of

ground water recharge areas and other such studies. In addition they fulfill a

need recognized by agricultural, industrial, municipal and recreational interests

wherever any planning for water use is involved. The U. S. Geological Survey map-

ping program, which was started in Florida over 60 years ago, is the basic mapping

program of the state, although other agencies (e.g., the State Road Department)

often conduct less comprehensive mapping projects.

Topographic maps are essential for national defense. In this respect,

Florida is fortunate since the military establishments in the state have necessi-

tated that much mapping be done by the Survey. There is a total of about 54,000

square miles in the state of Florida, of which about 59 per cent (32,000 square

miles) is covered by maps of the U. S. Geological Survey. The extent of this cov-

erage is indicated in Figure 13. Some of the maps in this area, however, were sur-

veyed as early as 1890 and, as a consequence, a significant portion of this work is

badly out of date, and remapping is required in order to provide maps for present-

day needs.

At present mapping is in progress on an additional 14,000 square miles, or

26 per cent of the state area. The status of the map in this area ranges from

completion of the aerial photography to the publication of the completed maps. The

coverage is indicated in Figure 13. According to information received from the

Survey, only a modest amount of work is scheduled to be started during the next two

years and will cover about 1,700 square miles, leaving about 7,000 square miles

upon which no work has been done. The Survey's long-range mapping program

16 -

_____________________ ______________________ -


contemplates coverage of the state in about 20 years, but there are areas within

the state upon which topographical information is needed now to complete water

resources studies currently underway. There is a great need for maps covering

about 5,000 square miles in order to provide information on drainage areas to aid

in the analysis of stream flow records. Wherever the need for topographical maps

is pressing and cannot be fulfilled under the existing or planned federal program,

cooperative mapping projects may be initiated to expedite the work. The arrange-

ment requires sharing the cost of the work on a 50-50 basis with the federal gov-

ernment. At present, Florida is the only state that has not entered into a coop-

erative agreement with the U. S. Geological Survey in its topographical mapping

program. There are, however, some areas in the state in which a cost-sharing pro-

gram of this nature is desirable to furnish information for needed water resources


- 17 -